Tom Lieber continues to engage, explore, and push the limits of abstraction. The sweeping, gestural lines that rip through his pictorial space are reminiscent of the lyrical, looping currents found in Hans Hartung’s mid-century paintings or the curvilinear markings of Joan Mitchell’s looser compositions while thicker black cross- hatchings, such as those in Tall Tip (2012) or Step (2012), call to mind Franz Kline’s signature motif. All of Lieber’s notations run across and weave through mostly neutral though highly nuanced fields of gradually shifting color in the style of Rothko or Newman. Despite these visual references, the overall execution of Lieber’s formal language produces a unique holism recognized as the artist’s own. More often than not, two loose masses with gravitational clout take center stage: the expressive, colorful energy they emit ignites the entire canvas and propels along the semblance of a narrative, despite the nonrepresentational nature of Lieber’s subject matter.
In works past, Lieber was so focused on his paintings’ final coherence that he would work and rework the formal elements to the point where many if not most of his lines were ultimately erased in the process. In this body of work, however, Lieber describes a newfound “attempt to leave more of the search visible for the finished painting—I’m not erasing, but rather looking, revealing. The challenge for me is just to leave it.” Having recently started dividing his time between Hawaii and Los Angeles, the paintings that comprise Wired reflect his experiment in urban living. Los Angeles is perpetually abuzz with a very singular kind of animation: miles of traffic flow (or stall) in endless streams delimited by the city’s tangle of roads and highways, patrons fall into queues that regularly snake down and around blocks, people constantly chatter or punch messages into their smartphones, power lines serving millions dart across the city as webs of electricity, and planes criss-cross the sky in a proliferation of take- offs and landings. Lieber absorbs all of these environmental cues, distilling them down and calling them forth. This is in part why these newer paintings have a sharper, more forcefully energetic and unrelenting feel, as opposed to the calmer, more atmospheric aura of the works he created in Hawaii. Such insights shed light on Lieber’s observation that his paintings indirectly function as self-portraits.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1949, Tom Lieber earned both his BFA (1971) and MFA (1974) from the University of Illinois. In addition to showing across North America and Europe, his work can be found in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Tate Gallery, London. In 1975, Leiber was honored with a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.