Thursday, August 9, 2007

Gestural love

Chuck Gumpert and Christopher Mathie show at Two Vaults Gallery

published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug 9, 2007
pictured: "New Wind Blowing," mixed media, by Chuck Gumpert
Photo: Chuck Gumpert

Chuck Gumpert and Christopher Mathie are painters after my own heart. They both love the act of painting ― the kind of painting that since the 1940s has been called "gestural," a word not recognized by dictionaries but well loved by artists the world over.

Gumpert and Mathie share a studio, and whether or not they consciously influence one another, their mutual influence is evident in their work. So much so, in fact, that I thought all of the paintings at Two Vaults Gallery were by Gumpert. That misconception was not helped by the fact that the show was billed as paintings by Gumpert and raku pottery by Mathie.

Yes, there are pots by Mathie in the show. Nicely executed pots as a matter of fact. But a pot is to me as is a rose to Gertrude Stein, and if that doesn't make sense, ask someone older and wiser.

By coincidence, the two artists came into the gallery while I was looking at their work, and Mathie set me straight when he realized I had mistaken his paintings for Gumpert's.

Both artists make abstract paintings with landscape elements and an occasional bridge or building or figure showing up here and there ― shadowy, amorphous figures and hints of a horizon. Both layer large areas of color on the canvas with a strong emphasis on mark-making. Gumpert's paintings are more atmospheric, and his colors are kept to a limited range with browns and grays predominating. The edges of his forms are soft, and he uses little or no line and practically no dark and light contrasts. Most of his forms are variations on squares and rectangles. His landscapes are stormy; his figures moody. And when he does include figures they are more intentional and more clearly defined than figures by Mathie, whose figures seem more like abstract shapes that accidentally look figurative.

Mathie's paintings range from deliberate landscapes to completely nonobjective abstractions. His landscapes are influenced by J.M.W. Turner, the British master of stormy seas (Gumpert's look more like James McNeil Whistler). His colors are brighter; his abstract shapes are more organic; and in some of his paintings, he uses a lot of big, sweeping lines.

One Gumpert painting I particularly like is "New Wind Blowing," a figurative painting featuring a single silhouetted figure in brown standing almost dead-center in a field of atmospheric gray swirls. The figure is a pregnant a woman. She looks as if her shape has been ripped out of the gray canvas. The breakup of space, the use of transparencies, and the placement of the figure in this painting are all excellent.

"Accidental Fugitive" is an abstract seascape in tones of gray with very subtle hints of red, brown and green in two clumps of square shapes. No specific details are discernable, but the feeling is of a stormy sea with waves washing up against rocks and pilings.

I was told that Gumpert's paintings in this show are among his latest. He brought out one older painting to show me, and I liked it better than most of the ones in the show, primarily because the colors were a little brighter and there was more contrast. I also preferred a lot of his paintings that are pictured on the gallery Web site. I can't tell if his work has become more muted lately or if it looks brighter in reproduction. If it has become more muted, that is a direction he may not want to continue pursuing.

Mathie's most outstanding work is a piece called "Monolith for Spring," which, at 10 feet by 30 inches, stands floor to ceiling in the gallery. Heavy lines in large, swirling motions delineate an abstract figure with shapes that are not confined to the figure but bleed out into the background. The paint is thick, and the colors are raw.

Mathie and Gumpert are regulars at Two Vaults Gallery. I felt like this particular show did not necessarily show the best of their work. The good thing for collectors is that if you don't see something you want in this show, the gallery can direct you to many other works by these prolific and talented artists.

[Two Vaults Gallery, through Sept. 20 Tuesday-Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday-Saturday noon to 8 p.m., Sunday 2 to 7 p.m., 602 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, 253.759.6233, http://twovaults. com]

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