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Originally penned for Artweek Magazine in Los Angeles, this commentary examines the paintings and multiples in low relief produced by Craig Ellwood. (American, 1922 – 1992). The review appeared  in Artweek on May 31, 1980.  Some materials related to the original review may be found in William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Ellwood’s architecture, especially his masterpiece, the Pasadena campus and buildings of the prestigious Art Center College of Design, is represented by a photograph at the bottom of this page. Ellwood paintings, compositions in relief and multiples are a direct and fascinating look at the evolution of his thinking. The Artweek article, Painted Mosaics:

 

images-3“Internationally acclaimed architect, Craig Ellwood, closed his architectural office three years ago to devote his energy to painting. The beauty and precision of his architecture are carried over to his paintings and multiples on view at Mirage Editions Gallery.

Influenced by his friendship with artist Josef Albers, Ellwood explores the variety of illusions possible by using minimal shape and color. A gallery announcement quotes Ellwood: “I confront outer chaos with an order consisting of balanced relationships. Each completed canvas provides at least one refined concept for the next. As with architecture, the process is dynamic and the progression intrinsic.” The progression in Ellwood’s paintings is obvious – his art improves with each work; the 1980 pieces surpass the prismatic paintings of 1979.

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Ellwood’s recent paintings, diamond in format, look like brooches encrusted with small areas of color. A cross-shaped matrix, formed in part by retaining the ground color, contains tile-like squares that are carefully painted to ensure unwavering chroma. Values change throughout the surface, creating illusions of chevrons, crosses and diamonds. The space between the squares of color can be read as solid or as negative.

 

The prismatic paintings of 1979 are less appealing than the recent gradated canvases. Using brilliant color, the works buzz with harmony and dissonance generated by tonal combinations. Placing the prismatic paintings in the same gallery with the recent paintings may be a flaw of this show. Hanging the vivid diamonds in a separate room isolated from the prismatics would enhance the viewer’s ability to view each group.

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Vaguely recalling the art of Agnes Martin, Ellwood’s works are free of quirky mysticism frequently attributed to Martin’s enigmatic painting. In their celebration of the beauty of color and its interrelationships, Ellwood’s paintings have more in common with the works of contemporary southern California artists Karl Benjamin and Guy Williams, than with Albers’ color explorations. As a new artist, Ellwood does not champion new ground. His finely tuned perceptions continue established modes of inquiry offering a rarefied and demystified look at painting.

Ellwood’s multiples on view at Mirage include a suite of small, superbly crafted painted constructions that extend the artist’s vision in an interesting direction. Masonite is incised with an architectonic design of twin rectangles placed slightly askew (See below). Rippled lines radiate away from the central rectangles. Painted in reds, blues, and oranges, these works have an unusual resemblance to fascia and floor tiles produced for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Yet these constructions, because of their size, read as paintings, rather than as tiles or incised reliefs.”

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A view of a campus building at Art Center College of Design. The building spans an arroyo and forms the entry to the isolated and beautifully landscaped campus. Building facades, interiors and integrated structure redefine modernist simplicity.

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Ellwood spent his final years in Italy, restored an antiquated farmhouse, built a studio, created paintings and prints, married, raised a daughter and enjoyed life. He died suddenly of a heart attack at Pergine Valdarno in 1992.

The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above. This document was originally assembled as a review of an Ellwood exhibition at Mirage Editions, Santa Monica. Special thanks to the artist, the artist’s representative, Joan Hugo and Cecile McCann (Artweek)

Appraisals and opinions regarding modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting william.hemmerdinger@gmail.com. Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Ellwood art should be directed to the estate of the artist through the Los Angeles Conservancy.

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