BOTH SKIES OPEN TO THUNDER
Henry Chapman & Natacha Mankowski
13 January - 5 February 2022
The exhibition Both Skies Open to Thunder presents new bodies of work by Henry Chapman and Natacha Mankowski, created in response to shared questions about ecology, landscape, and color.
French artist Natacha Mankowski (*1986) carefully selects and collects earth pigments in stone quarries abroad in order to make homemade paints in earth colors. The artist’s quasi-sculptural canvases, revealing an impasto technique, express her view on “ecosophy,”* an engagement with everyday ecological action. American artist Henry Chapman (*1987) paints on grounds made in his studio with oxide-pigments, repeating variations of a central form that suggest a color wheel or a clock. Screen-printed words, read clockwise from the top of each painting, make four-word poems about experiences of seasons, weather, and landscape.
Taken from the poet Wendy Xu, the exhibition title speaks to the evocative thread between both artists’ work and nature.
Recorded a length of time
I held memory tightly
Of the light there, a found scene
Number three on the dirt path
Father carries his school bag
Without use for meter, yet
Both skies open to thunder
Don’t speak to me of sorghum
Red fields, pressed up toward a sky
Whatever called to me there
Too wild, attempting a face
Old verses for my father
Dignify the cooling page
Black earth is the word it makes
Tilts forward, consequential
- Wendy Xu
Born 1987 in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Lives and works in New York, USA.
As son of a pianist Henry Chapman’s terms for understanding painting came from music - practice, performance, movement and time. These terms reflect how he makes each painting — at a scale requiring full body engagement and based on studies made in watercolor first.
A central form in Chapman’s work evokes both a color wheel and a clock. Some paintings suggest a figure reaching outward and others a stellar or floral shape. In his works figuration meets abstraction. Screen-printed words move within these marks and washes of color, often at marks where you would find numerals on a clockface. The idea behind these shapes is movement. To move through different modes and concepts — thinking, feeling, speaking, acting. The words themselves are not the painting’s ‘language,’ but they are definitely part of the language.
Color in its infinitude doesn’t recognize mastery. Color is a language impossible to fully learn. Chapman often refers to color as the syntax of painting: it’s relationships regulate and order the canvas. His newest group of paintings breaks from previous iterations by starting on a dark ground; this is the foundation for questions about time, movement, performance, and practice. The color relationships are limited to shades of black, brown, blue, purple, violet, and green.
In ‘Both Skies Open To Thunder’ each of the paintings include four words, meant to be read clockwise from the top, in the pattern of adjective-noun, adjective-noun. For example, “mixed earth, pale hills” or “green square, blue water.” In the past, Henry has screen-printed text onto his canvases as a way for the painting to think about itself––to comment on and interpret its own form. He has written short narratives to evoke experiences that corresponded to the form and color in the painting. In this body of the work, he thinks of the words as miniature poems that reflect his thinking about color and landscape. In these groupings of words, such as “night color, cold lake” or “blue violet, violent pink,” words for colors are sometimes nouns, and sometimes adjectives––meaning, sometimes they are the subject and sometimes they describe the subject.
This is how he thinks about the exploration of color in the central form of each painting too: color is sometimes the figure, but it is also sometimes the landscape in which the figure exists. The relationships between color and experience can change over time; the artist’s hope is that when you look at the painting long enough you can be be surprised by its color. Also Chapman tries to think about surprise in language––to be surprised by the pairings of words. He gravitated toward pairings that are evocative and unusual. That an amaryllis could be “undead” or to see a pink as “violent” or to think of one shape as a “square” and another as the “sea.”
Born 1986 in Paris, France.
Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The series of works by Natacha Mankowski currently on view at Valerius Gallery takes reference on the old stone quarries of Mount Pentelicus in Greece. Mount Pentelicus (also known as Hades wall / Cave of Nymphs / Cave of Pan) is a mountain in Attica, Greece, situated northeast of Athens. It has been famous for its marble since antiquity. Pentelic marble was used for the construction of buildings in ancient Athens, particularly the Acropolis.
In the autumn of 2021, Mankowski spent a few weeks studying and walking the abandoned area with friends. The roadway, used to transport marble blocks from the quarry to the Acropolis in Antiquity, is a continual downhill that follows the natural lay of the land. The pentelic marble is white with a uniform, faint yellow tint, which makes it shine with a golden hue under sunlight. Minerals found on site go from calcite (translucent white to gold yellow), clay (light creme/beige), quartz (translucent grey), micas (light silver), iron oxides (rusty red) and graphite (dark silver). These minerals constitute Mankowski's palette - evolving from light golds to colored greys.
Between nature and culture - and here even mythology - quarries are at a sensitive equilibrium between overuse and abandon. This brings up the importance of controlling the extraction of marble, to satisfy fundamental needs and not only for the sake of growth. This shows the importance / the aim to reintegrate and inhabit our environment in meaningful ways.
Architects and builders often collect their raw materials in stone quarries. Midway between nature and the built environment, quarries are transitional sites in which natural resources are excavated and turned into raw commodities to be used in buildings. They raise difficult questions about how humans have turned nature into sites for commodification, triggering ecological ruin and collapse. Inspired by these issues, Mankowski has explored and visited many of these quarries, paying close attention to their geographical lay-out and the unique selection of raw materials on site.
Defying the boundaries between different artistic disciplines, Mankowski’s work is characterized by an exuberant use of the impasto technique, through which she creates textural and spatial shapes that move her paintings into the realm of sculpture. With the distinction between two-dimensional and three-dimensional work thoroughly dismantled, Mankowski has developed a unique visual language. While her compositions may seem abstract to the casual viewer, they are reminiscent of blueprints and ground maps widely used in architectural design and urban planning. Indeed, many of her paintings are loosely inspired by the ground maps of the quarries she visited during her years as an architect.
Trained at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris, Mankowski worked as an architect alongside Jean Nouvel and Vito Acconci before turning to painting. Her architectural background still resonates strongly in her paintings.