Stephen Haller: Remembering Morandi
Warrior, 2008, oil on canvas, 70 x 59 inches; Flash Back, 2008, oil on canvas, 83 x 61 inches
.On the face of it, Thornton Willis’s “lattice” paintings are exactly what you see: hard-edge grids with a slight visual overlapping, as wide bands of color float over or dip behind one another. The construction depicted is as old as human culture, used in physical form for baskets and cloth.
The paintings take liberty with this structure, challenging our spatial perceptions of foreground and background, of what’s smack up against the picture plane and and how that relates to deeper, more ambiguous space. Their proportions, vertically oriented and of roughly human height, function as a kind of visual window into which you can fall, taking your perceptions with you. It’s a thrilling sensation, not unlike standing at the edge of a cliff—although your ideal viewing distance is about six feet away.
Each painting is a variation in color and structure. Even when several paintings have the same long rectangular proportion, the placement and structure of the bands—and certainly, their color, often modulated rather than flat—change, along with their individual cadences and rhythms. Looking at them in this way, music rather than textiles would seem to be the touchstone for the work.
Up close there’s another perceptual shift. What appear initially to be hard-edge paintings are in fact emphatically handmade with wavering lines and unexpected drips, pentimenti, and often a vigorous, textural overpainting. There’s a catalog photograph of Willis standing before an in-progress painting that’s taped where the colored bands are laid down. That must have been early in the process, because it’s only after the tape comes off that things get really interesting.
Warrior in foreground; Blue Sky with Lattice and Trellis in the Sun, both 2008, oil on canvas, 61 x 34 inches
Peeking around the corner, Flash Back, a detail of which is shown below
The show is up through April 19 at Elizabeth Harris Gallery in Chelsea. See more on the gallery website.