Article
Josh Sperling: Spectrum 
April 29, 2021

Josh Sperling

Spectrum 

May 8 – June 12, 2021

 

Perrotin Hong Kong is pleased to announce Spectrum, a solo exhibition by New York- based artist, Josh Sperling. This marks the artist’s first show in Hong Kong.

 

View of the installation Spectrum E, F & G, 2021. Photo:  Farzad Owrang. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin

 

Donald Judd must have been thinking about his fellow artist and friend Frank Stella when he famously wrote:  “The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall” (“Specific Objects”, 1965). Five years earlier, in 1960, Stella had started making shaped paintings, often in a L, U, N, or a T shape, using aluminum and copper paint, and initiating a whole new possibility in art. 

 

It is this and other formal breakthroughs that Josh Sperling builds upon as well as extends in his conceptualization of two signature forms, “squiggles” and “ double bubbles.”  Defying conventional definitions, the “squiggles” and “double bubbles” are painted sculptural forms. In order to make these hybrid forms, the artist has developed a meticulous process that culminates in canvas stretched over a precisely stepped plywood support in the shape of a curving or wavy line (squiggle) or two circles that seem to be stretching apart (double bubble). Once Sperling finishes a form, he applies acrylic paint and a varnish, careful in navigating between a matte and glossy surface. 

 

The result is a joyful possibility. Having freed his lines from the painting’s physical limitations, Sperling uses his “squiggles” to “draw” on the wall, constrained only by its physical parameters. In the case of the double bubbles, he fits them together with single circular forms to form tondos where the hues can shift from form to form. Placed in carefully planned configurations on the wall, the “squiggles” are sinuous, physical marks suggesting movement.

AbExDubBub B (detail), 2021. Acrylic on canvas. 73.7 x 66 cm | 29 x 26 inch. Photo:  Farzad Owrang. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

 

According to Sperling, “Illusion is also very important to me: the underlying structure gives the illusion of something, it is mysterious… When the squiggles are skinnier they have one central layer, in the middle they have two and when they are very large they have three. That is a result of wanting to give the work an organic life-like feel, like the rings of a tree that grows with layers.1” 

 

Acknowledging that the stepped levels of his squiggles come from the concentric lines that Stella used in his early, innovative, monochrome paintings, Sperling does something very different than his acclaimed predecessor. By freeing the squiggles (wavy and curling lines) from the physical limitations of a painting, whatever its shape, and attaching them directly to the wall, Sperling transforms the entire gallery space into an immersive experience. The tiered shapes add another element to the viewer’s experience as its interaction with the ambient light changes as one moves around the space.  

 

In his debut exhibition in Hong Kong, Sperling installs a large, immersive squiggle piece consisting of his physical “lines” on the entirety of the three walls of one gallery room. The primary difference between this “squiggle” installation and the ones he has previously done in Shanghai (2020) and Paris (2019) is Sperling’s use of the spectrum to guide his color choices. Never an artist to stand still, Sperling has the squiggles slowly shift in hue from red to violet, from orange to yellow, culminating in green and blue as the viewer looks around. In the second gallery room, different sized tondos made of double bubbles and circular forms hang on all the walls, covered in paint applied using Abstract Expressionist techniques. 

 

AbExDubBub G, 2021. Acrylic on canvas. 73.7 x 66 cm | 29 x 26 inch. Photo:  Farzad Owrang . Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

 

Sperling’s work should be seen within an expansive context. For one thing, the squiggles can be seen as evolving out of Abstract Expressionists and artists such as Franz Kline who drew in paint. However, his wavering forms are apt to bring to mind pop art artists such as Keith Haring. In these two recent bodies of work, Sperling mixes the optical rigor we associate with Josef Albers’ series, Homage to the Square, with the playfulness of his linear and circular forms. 

 

Born in 1984 in Oneonta, New York, Sperling has absorbed and re-imagined painting by drawing inspiration from the Abstract Expressionists, mid-twentieth century abstraction (Minimalism, Color Field, and Conceptual Art), Memphis Group designs, and MTV logos, ultimately charting his own course.

 

── John Yau

 

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Footnote:

1 Interview with Abstract Room, 2019

 


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