Born in Minnesota, artist Jack Wright moved to the Northern Bay Area in the 1950s and became a part of the avant-garde circle of artists in Marin County at that time that included recent transplant, British Surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford as one of its more prominent members. Inspired by the Surrealist’s use of automatism, Eastern calligraphy art, and their own close observation of nature, members of the group sought a spiritual-like stimulation through the act of painting. Onslow Ford once wrote of Wright: “Wright’s paintings have moved through the surface and into an inner-world beyond… these pioneering paintings are playing a part in creating a more inclusive way to SEE.” Jack Wright: A Unified Theory of Painting now on view at Oakland’s Krowswork gallery is the second co-curated exhibition by Travis Wilson of Wilson Art Service and Jasmine Moorhead, Director of Krowswork. Like the first, a retrospective of painter Sylvia Fein, this exhibition comes at the heels of a previous retrospective (Wright was celebrated at the Lucid Art Foundation in March) and aims to provide further context to and elucidate the greater significance of Wright’s practice within the region’s own art history.
The breadth and span of Wright’s work, both chronologically and in scope, scale, influences and techniques, is extensively explored in this retrospective exhibition in Krowswork: from some of Wright’s earliest works employing his characteristic square, pointillist mark-making he began in the 1950s to calligraphy-like patterning made in his latter years that illustrated a new, fundamental approach that was far more gestural and perhaps more clarified and independent in direction. Many of his first paintings, like Cloud Chamber from 1952 on view at Krowswork, inspired by composer friend Harry Partch’s instrument called “cloud chamber” began from a figurative foundation, the rotund shapes of the Pyrex bowls seem to echo within the work, and even the sound they perhaps made is suggested by the small, scattering squares. As his practice continued it seems obvious Wright’s work was liberated from these figurative forms, and delved further into his own concepts and ideals about larger issues. In the farthest room from the gallery entrance works like Continuum from 1989, viewers will see his first works’ smart, tight, squares once employed to achieve a slightly figurative effect have now been stretched, pulled, and applied to the canvas in a loosened gesture, with emphasis on concept over form. “Dragons on the Ridge,” produced in 1988 and playing in the gallery, is a rare video of Wright, painting and sharing with audiences his technique and philosophies.
Although he exhibited regularly, including the Walker Art Center, Betty Parsons Gallery, and the Minnesota Museum of Art, and enjoyed brief periods travelling abroad including a “spontaneous” move to Mexico for two years, Wright returned to his preferred isolated routine in Northern California, finally settling into a studio near Point Reyes that offered such seclusion that allowed him to be fully devoted to his practice. The studio space in Inverness, like many of the artistic facets of his life, seemed to have been chosen intuitively, or likened to a reverie: “the studio was an answer to his dreams” he once said. Within this space his work became more sophisticated, conceptual elements became more complex and thoughtful, and his work grew in scale, color, and depth. Critics grapple to describe Wright’s practice, his techniques and approaches so unique that only such discordant elements that span across the globe and beyond epochs and time could possibly explain or illustrate: Russian Constructivism and Australian Aboriginal sand painting; Native American spiritualism and Pointillism. Ross Anderson, Director, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art gets at the heart of it however when he writes, “Wright’s work remains uniquely his own, an oeuvre of disarming subtleties and stunning beauty.” Krowswork has yet again brought to the fore a significant component of regional art history, offering a moment of re-connection and re-evaluation of an important local artist’s body of work.
Jack Wright: A Unified Theory of Painting will be at Krowswork , 480 23rd Street through June 7, 2014