Stephen Westfall


Stephen Westfall
Nov 21, 2019 – Jan 18, 2020

Robischon Gallery is pleased to present three, concurrent solo exhibitions by New York artists Richard Serra, Don Voisine and Stephen Westfall with a two-person exhibition by Colorado artists Kate Petley and Derrick Velasquez. The five artists on view challenge and investigate varying aspects of abstraction, including Minimalism and Geometric Abstraction, in a variety of media.  From print work to painting as well as sculpture, the artists’ explorations into visual weight, color and surface are expansive in both composition and form.  The dynamic yet nuanced large-scale textural prints of preeminent sculptor Richard Serra, leading into the bold and color-saturated paintings of highly regarded artists Don Voisine and Stephen Westfall, alongside the process and material-based work of recognized artists Kate Petley and Derrick Velasquez, influence and add to the vocabulary of abstraction with their distinctive pursuits.  Each of the exhibited artists invite the viewer to engage in a dialogue between light and dark, gravity and weightlessness and to experience a sense of the architectural. 

Stephen Westfall

“I think a lot about the relationship between painting and architecture. I would like my paintings to be regarded as expressions of energy and place.”

With an evident painterly hand in contrast to the straight edges of color, Stephen Westfall, in his third Robischon Gallery showing, pursues compositions that move back and forth between whole and fragment while utilizing bold geometric form and unexpected combinations of color remains impactful in memory. Westfall’s first solo exhibition at Robischon Gallery, which included Canterbury, a vivid fifty-foot, site-specific wall painting in an alternating diamond motif. In his current gallery exhibition, Westfall returns with exuberant patterned paintings in a range of scale, which offer more variation to the viewer of his hand-painted, intuition-driven canvases. The artist states, “A predominant number of my paintings since 2001 have ten or eleven colors in evolving geometric arrangements that invoke Post War “Hard Edge” painting, Navajo and Plains Indian patterns, the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs, harlequin patterns, and so on.  I use geometric structures to distribute my colors in an imitation of randomness.  I say “imitation” because truly random distribution would present a lot more clumping of value and chromatic temperature than I want.  I’m searching for a sense of aeration and glow, like sunlight on a laundry line or a sun baked billboard on the eastern Arizona stretch of I-40.  I’m also hoping that the color distribution will contest in some way the symmetry of my pictorial architectures.  Along with dyslexia I have synesthesia and mixed dominance.  I can taste and gather scents from certain colors, and numbers and consonants have colors (which proceed to have and scent and so on).  I also do some things left-handed and other things right-handed since I desire symmetry but can’t live with it.  So, the shifting spread of my colors “undoes” my symmetries with an insider’s patience. I do not use tape on my canvases (impossible not to use tape on the wall paintings) so they have an increased “hand-made” feel to them in comparison with most hard-edged painting.  I think there’s a subtle animation as the paint meets the paint along the borders of every shape, a little vibration that also slows down the pattern reading – all the better for viewers to find the spaces of their own imagination.”

The breadth of invention within Westfall’s geometric language, direct palette, and complex formal synthesis is quite noteworthy: the larger, angular white elements of After Sunrise or Aeolian, ignite a sense of the figural, while the stretched, sideways-orientated diamonds with truncated tips of Reclining Harlequin suggest, when paired with the title, a certain rakishness – as others, such as Surfacing, add unexpected movement in contrast to the architecture. New York Times critic Roberta Smith states that such, “delicately calibrated destabilization is Mr. Westfall's trademark. Over the years he has used it to revive the tired vocabulary of modernist abstraction, in particular, the Mondrianist ideal of grids and color blocks. But he has also infused this vocabulary with just the right amount of worldly reference and postmodern play. His tattersall grids have jagged intersections; his colors tend toward off-key, either pale or a little rich; his corners never square. With everything slightly ajar, a subtle yet marvelously optical jostling of form and space sets in.” David Cohen of ArtCritical also observes that, “the last thing you expect of cognitive dissonance is a harmonious feeling, and yet that is what you get when you consider Stephen Westfall’s mode of painting and his way of conducting himself in the world.  Rigorous, cool, hard-edged formal abstraction is his painting mode whereas his activities as an educator, critic, essayist and curator of group exhibitions are marked by ecumenism: warmly inclusive and boundary-breaking in the people he selects to write about or to exhibit with/together, he often makes unexpected connections across mediums and styles, generations and allegiances.”

Whether it be mining the possibilities of scale, geometric pattern, or color in close value or contrasting relationship, Stephen Westfall’s curiosity about art and the world around manifests in a visual language that is joy-filled, activated and inherently intended to surprise and illuminate.   

Noted New York artist and art writer, Stephen Westfall has both a B.A. and M.F.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Widely exhibited both in the US and abroad, Westfall has received numerous honors and awards such as the Rome Prize Fellowship, Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Nancy Graves Foundation Grant, Class of 1932 Fellow of the Council of Humanities, Princeton University, Academy Award in Painting, American Academy of Arts & Letters, three National Endowment for the Arts awards and two from the New York State Council on the Arts. His work is included in museum and corporate collections including: Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Bon Marche, Paris, France; Kemper Museum, Kansas City, MO; The Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; Microsoft, Seattle, WA; Munson Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; The New York Public Library, NY; Rubin Museum, New York, NY; UBS Art Collection; University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, among others. Additionally, Westfall is on faculty at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts and Bard College. In the summer of 2018, Westfall's Perasma I, Perasma II and Dappleganger were installed in the 30th Avenue subway station in Queens, Astoria. According to MTA New York Transit, “The laminated glass panels in the station mezzanine's waiting area are frieze-like panels of abstract, geometric patterns that rhythmically invoke universality alongside cultural identity. The scale, mirrored glass, and merging movement invoke processional themes in classical friezes as well as the movement of public transportation in contemporary life, in particular the shuttering of light through the mezzanine windows and the bustle of bodies in our mass transit system."