“Topsy-Turvy” Featuring Artist Jeff Way Shakes Things Up Lesley Heller Gallery
Artist Jeff Way’s series of multi-process artworks on view in “Topsy Turvy” at Lesley Hellery Gallery proves to be that rare exhibition where each work possesses a unique yet harmonious vantage point onto a recurring theme. Marking an ingenious turn of creative processes combined with a speculative approach to composition and figuration, Way’s “Topsy Turvy” series – created between 2006-2016 – offer an alternative viewpoint onto painting as seen through distortion created by methods of reproduction: chiefly, a Xerox machine. The exhibit, opening on Wednesday, July 17 from 6-8 pm at Lesley Hellery gallery, is all the more compelling as it shines a light onto these works in their first solo foray out into the New York art world.
Latent tension between repetition and uniqueness mark a crux of the series’ premise: each painting is unique and newly created, while Xerox was invented to copy existing documents. Way plays with the purpose behind this once-cutting edge technology in his recent series by distorting imagery nearly to its breaking point in this series of engrossing works: strong color contrasts span across each work, building up and breaking down across the canvas. Way is that rare artist whose dedication to color doesn’t overwhelm the composition: instead, line and coloration combine in a frank, captivating look into the artist’s psyche. One enthralling aspect of this exhibition is its self-conscious meditation upon the previous series of the artist’s own work: a multi-disciplinary artist whose works have spanned museum walls ranging from the Whitney Museum to the New Museum, Way is able to confront and re-imagine the same impulses that have ignited his recognition in major institutions both in NYC and farther afield.
While these paintings mark a departure from the artist’s previous series of masks and mask-based performance, remnants of these same considerations are found in the distorted, multivalent heads present throughout the artist’s “Topsy Turvy” series. While larger arrays of his figurative elements can evoke, upon reflection, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, Way instead seeks inspiration instead from the jarring impression left by German Expressionists Jawlensky and Nolde. With a firm grounding in Art History at NYU prior to transitioning to graduate as a Studio Art major, Way is in tune with his own personal iconography residing in his repetitive contemplation of the head as a symbol for self-expression and the psychological underpinnings arising from such endeavors. The artist will also be at Lesley Heller gallery for a talk accompanying the exhibition, slated for July 31, 2019 at 6:30 pm.
On view through August 17th, “Topsy Turvy” is a sweeping exhibition at Lesley Hellery gallery of works by Jeff Way that are not only exhibited for the first time as a complete series in New York City, but also offer forth the unique vision of an artist with deep ties to the evolution of New York City’s contemporary art scene.
Jeff Way: Topsy-Turvy
Amanda C. Mathis: Collage Dwellings
July 17 – August 17, 2019
Opening Reception: Wednesday, July 17, 6–8pm
Artist Talk: Wednesday, July 31, 6:30pm
Lesley Heller is pleased to present Topsy-Turvy, a solo exhibition of paintings by New York artist Jeff Way. A veteran of the Downtown art scene of the 1960s, 70s and 80’s, Way is widely known for his mask-based performance works which were featured at various venues including the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, Artist Space and the Neuberger Museum. The paintings in this exhibition—all made between 2005–2016—bring the mask as a motif into his painted works and combine with them abstracted grid elements that reference in part back to his earlier chalk-line paintings of the 1970s.
The compositions, which are dynamic and disorienting, demonstrate Way’s mastery of color as a tool to form a strong visual and psychological impact. Distorted faces bend their way through the paintings in a way that feels like a journey through one’s psyche, or perhaps of having entered into dream-world dance.
To create these works, Way utilized a technique he developed in the early 1970s of using a Xerox machine to act as a camera. A gridded mask is placed on the machine’s glass plate along with a fabric—also with a gridded structure—and both are moved during the scanning. This allows for abstractions and distortions to develop in the image. These resulting black and white images form the preliminary “drawings” from which the paintings are based. The fabric transforms into a billowy and folded drapery, contouring and cradling the distorted faces and accentuating the sense movement in the paintings.
The grid, something which normally provides a sense of structure and stability, becomes completely destabilized in the paintings. This is further amplified by Way’s choice of color as a psychological element to intensify the emotional impact of each work.
“Faces, or heads, in my personal iconography, are the source and center of psychological expression.” Way states, “My intention in these paintings … is to create a feeling of displacement, while attempting to retain that essential, latent tension between a sense of spontaneity and control.”
Jeff Way (b. 1942, Waverly, Ohio) received a BA in history from Kenyon College (1964) before relocating to New York on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to pursue graduate studies at NYU (M.A. 1968). He is a grant recipient from the National Endowment for the Arts (1989) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (1988) and has been featured in exhibitions at prominent American institutions including at the Whitney Biennial (1973), the New Museum (1995), ICA Boston (1994), ICA Philadelphia (1982), CAM Houston (1995), and MoMA PS1 (1982), among others.
Way has been featured in numerous publications including the New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, and The New Yorker. Way’s work is held in various collections including the Whitney Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Denver Museum of Art. He has been a professor since 1968 and has always considered teaching to be an extension of his artistic practice. Since 1985, Way has served on the faculty at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. He currently lives and works in New York, NY.
This small, scrappy group show plants a seed that may grow, dignifying the current snark for jejune abstract painting. A statement - "art with a diversely uniform look, manifest in rule-bound yet random outcomes" - dates the tendency to the early ninteen-seventies, when it flourished briefly under the label of lyrical abstraction. Earnestly pleasant works from back then by the likes of Jeff Way and Carol Haerer commune with new ones by such young guns as Whitney Claflin and Julia Rommel. Spin paintings from 1986 by Walter Robinson, the snarker-in-chief who coined the titular epithet, preside.
— The New Yorker
“Zombie Formalism, 1970–2016” is a group exhibition that switches out Clement Greenberg for Roger Corman and skewers the work of all those (mostly) hot young dudes of recent vintage who’ve made process-based abstraction so insufferable. Mark Prent’s morbidly hilarious sculptures of desiccated, flesh-hungry creatures, His Final Statement and Five Stuffed Crows (both 1970), reimagine aesthetics as a horror show and artistic production as brain-eating. They also broaden the much-maligned term under which these pieces are being shown, helpfully putrefying notions of fashion and market cool.
Nods to this stripe of making’s sleekness and chicness, however, are here, but they’re decades old: Boyd Rice’s diamond-shaped swath of enamel-sprayed cotton that looks almost photographic, Untitled, 1975, and Jeff Way’s psychedelically striated Untitled (Red-Green), 1971, are juxtaposed with more recent iterations of zombie styling, cleverly perverting what could be mistaken as an exhibition of homages to something more incestuous, necrophilic, interesting. Megan Marrin’s juicy rendering of a corpse flower, Those three days (titan arum), 2015, imprints itself quite indelibly upon the mind. Her take on large-scale Photorealism is shot through with a Novalisesque romanticism that revels in the erotics of absurd phallocentrism.
The younger generation’s works on display are not critical of zombie art. And they certainly aren’t dismissive of their senior peers, either. Here, many queer minds gather together to inhabit all kinds of worlds—idiosyncratic, camp, and hallucinatory—in ways that your typical walking-dead crapstractionist could never imagine.