The works are bold and diagrammatic, at once elegant and urgent. Black acrylic paint is applied directly to raw canvas, which is still visible in thin, vertical, skewed lines that slice through the black surface with an intense rhythmic pitch. Reflections, folds, and mirrors may all come to mind, but the compositions are held in tension against any possible convergences, simple readings or symmetry. They reverberate with the particular beauty inherent to clarity spurred to adventurous action.
Mary Jones, I paint myself out of the paintings, interview for Art Critical, New York 2016
The way the artist chose to title the exhibition says a lot about the nature of his body of work, a whole that can be seen as a never-ending and unique series of paintings that paradoxically make diversity arise through repetition. These new paintings are thus organically connected with their precedents. It is not that the artist searches for simplicity, on the contrary, he intends to intensify complexity not in an expansive way but within narrow margins. Rhodes has determined these margins by establishing language limits: he paints black on raw canvas, or paper, and composes with vertical lines. Starting from these premises, the outcome becomes unexpected: paintings next to each other reveal formal and temperamental differences.
Vertical lines show different widths and inclinations while the applied paint amplifies the presence of the canvas surface. The concept of the variation helps to understand each individual painting as also a part of something larger, a common harmonic pattern that naturally connects one painting to another and so on. Time is a magnitude that becomes necessary for the apprehension of these works that are apparently simple both in process and result. A slow glance at Rhodes` works proves how this extreme economical expression can suddenly create fluctuations, rhythms, and an emotional atmosphere.
María Pfaff, text for New Paintings at Tat Art Barcelona (Galeria Carles Taché), Barcelona 2017
Deeply imbued with references to the history of western art, David Rhodes' pictorial language limits itself to several technical elements repeated by the artist in each painting he creates. Vertical lines of different widths reveal nuances of the canvas surface. The limitation to black and white responds to an intent to mediate the process of painting without the distraction of colors and to an expression at once economical, urgent and emotional.
Just so, through repetition, the eye, aroused by incidents, can abandon the quick glance and thus concentrate on the perception of details. Then one can begin apprehending the rhythmic, formal, particular differences between the paintings. The precision, directness, and honesty in Rhodes' technical process are intended to intensify rather than reduce complexity.
Galeria Carles Taché, Barcelona 2020
I think that there are some surprising common aspects of making art, and writing about it, in handling paint and in handling words. For me, this is because both are as much about finding as about doing. The act of doing is always generative whether it is obvious or not, to the point where it is often the most interesting aspect of either. It can seem when this is happening that they produce themselves. Gerhard Richter said that he wanted his paintings to be smarter than he was, and I think he was referring to this process. I certainly don’t have an explanation for this, as much as I might try it always remains out of reach. To try though is a philosophical endeavour. There are insights into the process, as a painter, that come from the experience of doing, these are not exclusive insights of the artist, as I was once tempted to believe—the writer and poet Barry Schwabsky, for example, often proves this in his writing on abstract painting, the kind of painting I make. Even within any one category of painting, it is still too various for anyone painter to know completely, from the inside. We are all viewers.
For me as a working-class Jew from an industrial city in the north of England, and entering school at the lowest rung possible, I also have my own evolving perspective on culture. My first experience of upper-middle-class life was aged 17 through an English Armenian girlfriend and her family. It was the entering of another world: a foreign and attractive land. One unavoidable lesson learnt was that no perspective is ever universal. Class, like race or gender, provides a thoroughly different nuance to life—think of an Auden poem and its simultaneous, multiple points of view. Class though, in the art world is not discussed, primarily because it is still not largely represented. Class does, however; thoroughly shape our societies, culturally, socially, politically.
By 18 I had excelled academically at least to the stage where I was qualified for University—I could use words, and I could draw—I chose art school. This was rather perverse as there was zero family, and meagre government support for this. But painting was inexplicable, it's material and visual mystery and sensuality irresistible. At art school, I read everything I could find in the library concerning painting and made monthly journeys from the school in Bristol to London, and Chelsea School of Art library for the excellent collection of art magazines and exhibition catalogues. And I would visit The National Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, and Whitechapel Gallery. I had to look and read voraciously because I didn’t receive any of it as a given, or as an entitlement. Beginning here, and then over the years, reading writing on art as different as, for example, Charles Baudelaire, George Bataille, Hubert Damisch, Clement Greenberg, and Donald Judd has been important to me. After moving to London I began giving museum talks (where?) after hearing a rote description of Blinky Palermo’s work by a docent. I decided there to counter this with my artists view in solidarity with other artists. This led to many more such talks and some lectures and co-editing and reviewing for a short-lived magazine called Fuse in 1988. Frank Bowling, who wrote a piece for Fuse, was a great supporter, and an example at this time in London of an artist who also wrote.
By 2003 I was living in Berlin and was generously encouraged to write a regular Letter from Berlin by John Yau, then the Art Editor at the Rail. This is where my art writing really got going. Artist friends Sherman Sam in London and Sonita Singwi in New York also encouraged me to pursue writing. Barry Schwabsky made it possible for me to contribute to Artforum and later in 2019 to publish a book on the abstract painter Bernard Frieze. David Cohen also invited me to contribute to his journal Artcritical. Writing, like painting, offers up thoughts that one didn’t know one had from the process of doing, or at least the kind of writing and painting that I do. In painting, I work in a way that allows me to be quickly in the position of a viewer as I work blind so to speak, and with speed—without seeing the painting before it’s complete, there is only adjusting, assessing, changing as I progress with no going back—I then I have to see what it is. My paintings are relatively simple and each one closely connected to the next, but I still find them each so much more complex than I can ever hold. Over time the paintings change, both in the perceptual sense of looking and also in returning to them over lived time, to look again. Like Jorge Louis Borges said, if one reads a new book each time and you will always read the same book, but read the same book again and again and you will always read a different book. I can really appreciate what he was getting at. I see writing as joining a dialogue, like talking in studios and galleries and museums. And painting too, joins a dialogue, wherever it is seen, or written about.
David Rhodes An Artist Writing The Brooklyn Rail, New York 2020