Moon Shield, 2016, 120 x 94 in., Oil on canvas
Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by painter Tom Lieber. Over the course of an accomplished forty-year career, Lieber has made a study of abstraction, looking to art history to inform certain choices while allowing himself the space to develop his own practice and style.
This exhibition highlights Lieber’s continued interest in the relationship between figure and ground. In an effort to activate a powerful bodies-in-space effect, Lieber pursues distinct contrasts, frequently pairing vigorous black lines with a modulated white background. He also explores how other colors—such as ochre and red, as seen in Gold Drop (2016)—can form a foundation from which a visual charge of similar strength is created. In all of the works, predominately black lines—accented by bursts of color—zip, quiver, and curl across the canvas, complementing and contradicting one another. Many of these lines are inspired by the lush vegetation of Hawaii, where the artist has a home, and each gesture is accounted for so that the resulting arrangement has a specific energy driving it.
An unmistakable V-shape is apparent across these newest works. Although Lieber has only recently given prominence to this shape, it has been present since his very first paintings; his so-called alligator images from the 1980s, for instance, feature forms reminiscent of the tapered, textured tails of the works’ namesake. In recent years, Lieber has pulled closer into the paintings, consciously highlighting the V and, consequently, achieving a heightened sense of precision. His attention to this gesture can be tied to his interest in reiki, aikido, and meditation, all of which focus on ways of channeling the body’s energy. From this vantage point, the V can be seen as symbolizing the lower torso—the standing body’s center of gravity. In Moon Shield (2016), which features an inverted palette of white on black, a central V takes up nearly the entire composition. Converging white, red, tawny, and black marks draw the eye down to the gesture’s pointed nadir, which, while dense, does not feel heavy. Any excessive weight is counterbalanced by a series of lightly rendered secondary Vs that dance around the luminous white field at the composition’s center.
While Lieber is cognizant of the history of nonobjective painting, he is primarily concerned with evolving abstraction in his own way. Each painting serves as “a statement about my reality” and is born of an inward-facing focus: Lieber heads to his studio at 3 in the morning, when there are few external stimuli, including daylight, to distract him. When he does look to other artists, he finds himself drawn not to the Abstract Expressionists but rather to figures as diverse as Giacometti, Giorgio Morandi, and Philip Guston (whose great work, Lieber notes, begins when he breaks from Abstract Expressionism). Lieber admires these three artists because each eschewed the trends of the day to follow his own path: they were “in touch with their own energy—their own line and gesture—and weren’t addressing ‘Art,’ like Jasper Johns or Warhol, for instance, who were revolting against what came before.”
Tom Lieber was born in 1949 in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned his BFA and MFA from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1971 and 1974, respectively. Lieber has exhibited extensively across North America and Europe and was previously the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Tate Gallery, London. This will be Lieber’s fourth solo exhibition at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.