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Three New Mexico Modernists: Warren Davis, Douglas Denniston, Thomas Stokes    Feb 5 - Feb 28, 2010


Reception: Friday, February 5, 2010, 5:30 - 7:30pm

Santa Fe, NM—Sustaining its commitment to presenting works by modern artists whose merit eclipses current exposure, LewAllen Modern is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Three New Mexico Modernists: Warren Davis, Douglas Denniston, Thomas Stokes. On view at LewAllen Galleries’ Downtown venue from February 5-28, 2010, this focused historical survey draws from the artists’ estates to demonstrate three singular visual approaches inspired by and contributing to an understanding of New Mexico’s unique landscape and cultural identity.

The color field paintings of Warren Davis (1932-74) stand among the most aesthetically refined expressions of their genre. Characterized by superimposed layers of transparent color poured onto unprimed canvas, the artist’s mature works merge the forceful expression of chance with an unerring ability to ensure the even dispersal of pictorial incident over the entire field of his paintings.

In the estimation of Elaine de Kooning, “Davis’ work has always been remarkably consistent, expressing a sense of wholeness and clarity, of tension within tranquility – no loose ends, no raw colors, no indecisiveness.” Marked by a serene extravagance and rigorously controlled gesturality, Davis’ paintings achieve a startling balance between brilliant hues and icy darks to create a form of unimpeded expression manifest in broad curtains of astounding chromatic complexity. His highly individualized formal architecture, led the MacArthur winning critic and curator Dave Hickey to attest, “the gestures are deployed evenly over the canvas, and the intensity is controlled with a confidence and facility which gives the paintings a unnerving sense of spontaneous factuality. They seem to say, ‘This is what I did today—isn’t it beautiful?’”

Born in Amarillo, TX, in 1932, Davis studied at the University of Texas and at Oklahoma State University before arriving at his voice under the guidance of Amarillo’s Dord Fitz, a painter credited by de Kooning as one of the most perceptive art teachers of his generation. Beginning in 1962, he lived and worked in New York City, where he achieved critical and commercial success. Relocating to Tesuque, New Mexico, in 1971, he continued to paint steadily and intensely until his premature passing in 1974. His works are included in notable public and private collections including the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe; and the Amarillo Museum of Art, which held a posthumous retrospective including 123 of the artist’s paintings in 1975.

Born in 1922 in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, Douglas Denniston (1922-2004) arrived in Santa Fe in 1945. Finding inspiration in the romantic nostalgia of the region’s unique landscape and cultural identity, he established a prolific and varied career spanning six decades. Attracted in particular to the tradition of the Taos school of painting and Raymond Jonson’s Transcendental Painting Group, Denniston delved into a highly individual and spiritual artistic journey. As Jonson’s protégé, he began a life-long relationship with abstraction that has positioned him as a historic figure within the development of American Modernism.

Most notable are Denniston’s non-objective paintings completed before 1950, a period of marked productivity and expansive formal and expressive development. A synthesis of the artist’s New York origins and southwestern experience, these works are characterized by loosely geometric, non-objective forms. An emphasis on surface, shape, and color reveals a careful coordination of formal elements underlying apparently spontaneous compositions. A palette ranging from syrupy sweet to bitterly acidic and the textural contrast of thick impasto against smooth, thin veneer energize Denniston’s paintings with a tense and active vitality. Of this period, Jonson noted, “Denniston is at his apex… his enthusiasm and activity are amazing.”

Often displayed alongside friends Agnes Marin and Richard Diebenkorn, Denniston’s work has been presented in major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Denver Art Museum, among others. He was recognized as New Mexico artist of the Year in 1947 at the New Mexico State Fair; in 1952 Denniston was awarded first prize at the Butler American Print Fair as one of only three artists practicing West of the Mississippi invited to participate. A former member of the University of Arizona Faculty, Denniston was recently featured in Douglas Denniston: 42 Years in Tucson at the Tucson Museum of Art in 2001 as well as Douglas Denniston: Early Works 1946-1952 published in conjunction with a 2007 exhibition at Eric Firestone Gallery.

The color field paintings of Thomas Stokes (1934–93) evidence a mastery of composition, order, and painterly values. Characterized by luminous fields of delicate coloration strained in thin layers across their picture planes, the artists’ works harmonize unbroken surfaces and serene formats. Their expansive horizontality evokes abstracted landscapes that are at once absolute and ambiguous.

Eschewing the frenetic brushwork and heroic gesturalism of Abstract Expressionism, Stokes’ aesthetic strategies privilege balance over brashness – sustaining gradual, rather than immediate, comprehension. Slyly illusionistic, his paintings also depart from Color Field abstraction’s customary allocation of all visual attention to the surface of the picture plane. By pointing out subtle deceptions – suggestions of depth and volume – the artist alerts viewers to the confluence between the internal and the external, knowing and seeing, ideation and physicality.

For Stokes, the way to truth is the power of illusion, instructing us that what we see is not what we see. As the trailblazing New York gallerist Betty Parsons once remarked of the artist, one whom she represented and advocated passionately, “There are many voices to be heard, and Tommy’s is pure poetry.”

Born in New York City on March 15, 1934, Thomas Stokes was raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Having returned to New York in the 1950s, he would emerge during the 1960s as the last major artist discovered by Betty Parsons over the course of her storied career. Subsequently living in London, Los Angeles, and Roswell, Stokes settled in Santa Fe in 1986. A significant figure in the history of 20th century abstraction, the artist’s works have been exhibited in numerous museums and collected by significant private collections internationally. Thomas Stokes continued to refine his subtly colored, meditative canvases until his death in 1993.

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