It was painting rooftops and the laundry that hung from them in New York City that jumpstarted a young Lynne Golob Gelfman’s love for grids. Eventually, her obsession led her to begin exploring systemic painting and different interpretations of the grid. Ever since the artist was a child, she never liked following the rules.
Grids examines the paintings of Gelfman in relation to the Modernist tradition of the grid. Early art historical examples involving the use of this form include the paintings of Piet Mondrian or Kashmir Malevich in the early 20th century or later in the 1960s paintings of Agnes Martin or Sol Lewitt. These precedents dialogue in diverse ways with Gelfman’s contemporary explorations.
In 1968, Gelfman started creating grid paintings in New York City indebted to the idea of systemic painting, described by Gelfman as “creating a formula for a painting before you make it.” The art historian Rosalind Krauss, in her influential essay Grids from 1978, explored this aesthetic trajectory, describing this form as having “mythic” and “spiritual” qualities that are not relating to anything religious. Gelfman’s early New York works display these influences in her use of serial, flat forms organized in grid patterns.
“What I really love about the systems and the grids is that I sort of feel like the trickster. I follow the rules of the game, and then I can break them,” Gelfman explains.
In 1972, Gelfman left the Big Apple for the Magic City. She then began exploring the vulnerability of her grids through manipulating and mixing paint with dish soaps such as Joy and later played with different chemicals. These paintings involve the application of paint on one side of the canvas and allowing it to seep through that canvas in irregular ways, with the final painting displaying on the other side.
Gelfman explains, “The frame from the back comes to the front, so you’re not sure as the onlooker if you’re looking at the front or the back of the painting.” The resulting effect, which mixes the color of the raw canvas with pale washes of paint, evokes the bleaching effects of tropical sunlight.
Gelfman’s between paintings transform the grid of chain-link fences, often used to aggressively divide urban spaces, into shimmering, transparent patterns that recall the movement of sunlight on the sea. The grid serves as a metaphor for eroding structures from environment and eroding values.
“I like the idea of the non-redundant repetition,” Gelfman explains. “That’s something that Rosalind Krauss talks about, always that sense of mapping and the vulnerable structure, how water sort of destroys the hard edge structure.”
The artist has lived and worked at various times in Colombia, where she has investigated indigenous textile and basket weaving techniques. The series in the upcoming exhibition that evidence these influences include lines, where invisible horizontal markings interact with applications of dripping paint that move vertically down the surface, creating a patterning that recall the irregular grids of textiles.
She says, “I just love to paint. It’s still a mystery for me, and a game. I look forward to the experience every day.”
Be sure to catch the opening of Grids: A Selection of Paintings by Lynne Golob Gelfman on September 15.