Turning Painting On Its Side: A Movement Grows in Bellport by Mary Black

I was during a winter residency at Gallery 125 in Bellport on Long Island’s south shore that David Adams, Daniel O’Keefe, and John Perreault were surprised to
discover they had something in common other then their commitment to abstract painting. All three were painting horizontally, on the floor and tables. Nearby artists Larry Wolhandler and Emanuel Buckvar also worked in a horizontal fashion. Then Mark Van Wagner, who met Perreault over the internet, moved from Hawaii to Bellport. Etsuko Ichikawa lives in Seattle and was introduced to the group by Howard Shapiro of Lawrence Fine Art East Hampton.
Now, for the first time, all seven artists will exhibit their paintings in “Going Horizontal: Turning Painting on Its Side,” now on view at Studio Vendome, at the Philip Johnson Glass House, 330 Spring Street in New York’s SoHo through June 2. The show travels to East Hampton and opens at Lawrence Fine Arts, 37 Newtown Lane, on June 6 through June 30.
“Most intriguing are the uniquely different processes employed by each artist as they successfully solve complicated problems in real time,” says Gallery 125 Executive Director and Chief Curator for “Going Horizontal,” Thomas V. Schultz. Schultz and the artists agreed to connect the terms “Horizontalist” and “Horizontalism” to the group as it relates to the movement on multiple levels. “They are from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds and live distinctly different lifestyles. However, while creating, one would never recognize their differences.”
Lisette Ruch, Director of “Going Horizontal” says, “One of the things that characterizes Horizontalism is that the art transcends self-reflective, cathartic processes. They are questioning everything about our world, in a subtle, often minimalist way.”
Rather than painting vertically on an easel or a wall, the Horizontalists work their magic from above — pouring, scraping, sanding on horizontal grounds of unstretched cloth, stretched canvas, wood, or paper. When Jackson Pollock was making his proto-Horizontalist drip paintings, he also worked on the floor of his studio and outside on the ground. When their paintings, made on the horizontal, are tilted to the vertical and hung on walls, the viewer sees aerial abstractions, maps of process, beautiful bird’s-eye views, and glimpses of spatial, psychological, and semantic disorientation.
Daniel O’Keefe mixes pigments with Venetian plaster applied with knives and a hawk. He methodically scrapes away layers to reveal an expressive abstraction. He recalls his childhood playing marbles. “Creating art on a horizontal surface is reminiscent of the days when I observed those colorful orbs dotting the earth’s terrain, my first canvas. Living on the top floor of a downtown Beirut apartment building, working on scaffolding, parachuting out of an airplane and becoming a pilot allowed me to focus on things from above.”
Larry Wolhandler works on a table bearing down with an electric sander on his rectangles applied with commercial house-paint. It is not surprising that the Horizontalists admire Marcel Duchamp who said the hardware store was the only art supply store an artist needed. “Truthfully, I never really thought about it. Painting horizontally came naturally to me, like sitting at a desk writing a letter, and now suddenly I’m a Horizontalist.”
Emanuel Buckvar “throws down” acrylic with such energetic force that velocity and air become his implement. “I love the feeling of working outside, at night, on the ground. Action painting is a style others are afraid to approach, but there is so much left to explore. Instead of dripping, I use force to throw down paint, creating a new look, one of exploding lines. When I heard about the Horizontalists, I had to explore the Movement. It’s inspiring.”
“We are the future because the future is horizontal,” proclaims John Perreault, who has produced several horizontal series including sand-and-pigment mixtures applied to paper and coffee poured on paper. He is currently pouring pigments onto stretched canvas and then constantly tilting the plane to control the pigment flow. “We are not turning painting upside down, we are turning painting on its side. Every time we hang one of our Horizontalist paintings on a wall, we are surprised by it.”
Mark Van Wagner works pigmented sand from all over the world into colorful arrangements. “Being a Horizontalist is a necessity and not really a choice. I pour glues and polymers on the canvas and then sprinkle sand on the glue. The work needs to be flat and horizontal. However, with that said, I get a wonderful feeling physically hovering over the pieces while creating them. I feel more involved and “in the work” than when I previously painted vertically.”
Etsuko Ichikawa draws with molten glass to create ‘glass pyrographs.’ “Horizontalism was a happy accident for me. I was in the glass studio, moving away from the furnace with molten glass on a pipe, I dripped a bit onto the floor. There was nothing special about this, but my eyes were wide open when I saw the beautiful burn mark on the concrete floor. Working horizontally allows me to intuitively work with molten glass, instead of controlling the material when I work vertically.”
Artist and poet David Adams uses a punctured paint can suspended on a tripod and, harnessing the centrifugal force of the Earth’s rotation, he creates fantastical elliptical designs. He sums up his thoughts: “horizontalism” is the laying down of a medium in a horizontal plane, typically paint and plaster using tools. brushes or mechanics. “Horizontalists” are we who see life in art in the flat. it’s the way it turned out a commonality based on the reality of each of our paths coming together in abstraction horizontally. It’s the way it turned out, a commonality based on the reality of each of our paths coming together in abstraction horizontally.

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