Apr 22nd 2017

Patrick Chamberlain, Michelle Grabner and John Wilkinson join together in conversation about Patrick Chamberlain’s exhibition “Unreliable Narrator.”

Patrick Chamberlain’s work—a slapdash of shots, the rigorous study of forms simmering below playful eclectics—flickers, painting still kicking. If lushness is, for painters, a recurring concern, maybe that’s the inevitable lick of real faith in abstraction (if not in its specific protocols then its recurrence, its relentless and shameless advances).

In his first solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta, Chamberlain’s omnivorous bonhomie is clear.Painting’s extensive history makes it ideal matter to be gathered into its own investigations. Chamberlain refers to his folded, sloped paintings as canted. Here, Stella’s writ large en petit: referring is always a little unmaking. Cant: “verb: dated.” Not a definition but a description, for hypocritical, chanting, and slanting, which are now just hypocritical and slanting. It’s close to “can’t,” which is short for the painter’s fable “I can’t go on, I must go on.”

No fetish for size: abstractions are intensified in domestication by portrait conventions; miniatures held in hand threaten their namesake monuments. It it still reproduction if kin’s smaller? Diedrich Diederichsen writes: “a quotation is the statement ‘I did not make this. And now I am referring to it, to what I did not make. I am referring because I did not make.’” And yet you make.

Now that seventy-five years have passed, we can appropriate “Towards a Newer Laocoön” in pieces, as allegory: “we can only dispose of abstract art by assimilating it, by fighting our way through it.” We saw what happened in the following ten years, abstraction ossified into literature. It sneaks in as narrative; it is deployed.

Chamberlain’s wrestle with what’s left of the medium and what’s ahead for interior abstractions marks the grip with what one doesn’t command (the story) and the reckoning we’re called to in art, even without an endtimes. Keep history at bay, “through it.”

Patrick Chamberlain’s work was included in a group show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 2007, and in 2010 his work was included in The Jewel Thief exhibition at the Tang Museum; one of his paintings is in the collection of the Tang. Artspace in New Haven presented a solo show in 2010 titled On Your Mark. In 2012 his work was included in a two-person show at Peregrine Program curated by Michelle Grabner. In 2014 his work was included in the exhibition at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago titled Szalon curated by Monika Szewczyk, and in 2015 it was included in Assisted at Kavi Gupta Gallery. In 2016 Chamberlain’s work was presented in a solo exhibition at the Suburban in Milwaukee. Chamberlain presently lives and works in Chicago.

Michelle Grabner is the Crown Family Professor of Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Grabner is an artist, a writer, and a curator.

John Wilkinson is a poet teaching in the English Department at the University of Chicago, where he chairs the programs in Creative Writing and Poetics. His recent books include a selected poems, Schedule of Unrest (Salt 2014) and the collection Ghost Nets (Omnidawn 2016). His present research is on the poet W.S. Graham in relation to painters of the St Ives School in mid-century Cornwall; and their relations with the painters of the mid-century New York School, especially those whose work can be ambiguous between abstraction and landscape (de Kooning and Frankenthaler for instance).

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