At the corner of 22nd and Capp Streets in San Francisco, inside what used to be the Super Duper Limpio laundromat, sits Kiria Koula, exhibition space and bookstore. Once filled with washers and dryers, the site now holds paintings by local artist Teresa Baker and Brooklyn-based Jenny Monick. A new wall extends across three-quarters of the gallery to provide more wall space, creating an intimate back room away from the distractions of a busy Mission intersection.
In the gallery’s office-slash-bookstore, angled shelves display titles chosen by another Brooklynite, A.K. Burns. For each exhibition at Kiria Koula, an artist is asked to select books that represent their current line of research. Burns’ titles include feminist science fiction from 1975, an examination of homosexuality in America, Carl Sagan’s classic Pale Blue Dot and Samuel R. Delany’s radical sci-fi opus Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand.
The heady, speculative texts are countered by the tangible objecthood of Baker and Monick’s paintings. Baker’s work is painting in the expanded field — draped felt and vinyl are just as common as stretcher bars and canvas. Monick’s small paintings on linen are easily identifiable as such, but they are the end result of years of accumulated layers, disparate gestures, approaches and decisions.
One group of Monick’s paintings zooms in on the application of paint itself. Her large brushstrokes resemble details of Gerhard Richter’s squeegee abstractions, capturing the movement of the brush in illusionistic vortexes of paint. Some of the color combinations in these paintings are thrilling. Standing spelled is awash in horizontal strokes of ochre and white. From done til dusk is an icy blue gray with glimpses of black, red and orange.
Then Monick’s focus turns to the edges. Three paintings share colorful dashes tracing an approximate rectangle within the edge of a metallic silver ground. Imprecise and irregular, the dashed outlines frame only more silver, the ghostly images of previous layers visible underneath. If these paintings are mirrors, they reflect the hazy uncertainty of past actions, striving for a more opaque and decisive present.
Monick delivers on this with a series of five works on linen in the gallery’s back room. Using transparent enamel, candy-colored circles ring the outside edge of each painting. They resemble the starting lineup of a traditional painter’s palette, each color ready and waiting for the mixing. There is no build-up or concealing in this series. The light, transparent circles are almost hesitant to enter the field, and yet they playfully emphasize the material structure of the painting by clinging to its edges.
In contrast to Monick’s process, most of Baker’s work appears immediate – her paintings are filled with simple gestures of draping, folding and cutting. But “simple” belies the artist’s considerations of color, shape and texture. Gnaw, a wall-work over six feet tall, is listed as vinyl on vinyl, but it’s really a green meshy material with translucent lilac strips woven in an arced fringe at its bottom. For Nil, the interest comes in a moment of reveal: dabs of acrylic paint on a folded piece of pink felt are offset by their shadowy doppelgängers on the layer behind.
Baker’s color choices are sometimes jarring: that fleshy pink and royal blue; forest green and lilac; more green. But in the back room, a rich earthy tone enters the show’s palette. Untitled is a painted canvas draped in a mottled sienna felt, with square edges of blue plastic peeking out from below. At the center of the draped canvas, a ragged hole reveals loose brushstrokes on the canvas beneath. If Monick’s paintings are mirrors, Baker’s Untitled is a mirror in mourning that refuses to be covered.
Asked how they know when a painting is finished, Monick and Baker had surprisingly similar answers: when it is no longer identifiable. Emptying their works of subject matter and association, they make repeated gestures (in Monick’s case, on the same surface, and in Baker’s case, across a body of work) within the vocabulary of painting to examine the discipline’s essential properties.
The creation of a new thing isn’t new, especially in light of all the speculative fiction lining the shelves just a room away. But it is still a vital thing and an important one. I’m sure A.K. Burns will have far more to say on the subject during her upcoming talk at Kiria Koula (date to be announced), but in the meantime, there is plenty to absorb through the quiet contemplation of painting’s most formal concerns. Be sure to carry the image lists with you: this is an installation where the titles — full of excellent puns, weird words and mathematical references — are a highly recommended reference.
Work by Teresa Baker and Jenny Monick is on view at Kiria Koula through April 25, 2015. Details and more information here.