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rick vian at m contemporary
The Growth Habit
Regarding Michigan’s Northwoods, “The Growth Habit” is a dendrological term. (dendrology: the scientific study of trees) The growth habit of a tree determines how it is going to grow: the angles at which the branches will grow, the radius of the curves of the branches, the shapes of the spaces between the branches etc. The growth habit then, determines how the tree will actually “design” itself and come to look the way it does. When we look at an oak tree, for instance, we recognize it as an oak tree because of its growth habit. We can say “This is an oak tree. It can be no other.”
I invented a growth habit of my own with which to develop shapes and designs for painting. My growth habit tells me, “I can use only these angles. My lines will curve only like so” This gives the shapes a family resemblance even though they may be very different. I look at the shapes between the lines, combine them and change them again and again, forming designs and compositions until the painting is “right”. Because of the growth habit of the painting we can say, “This painting is a Vian. It can be no other.”
Regarding Detroit’s Industrial Aesthetic, “Shapes developed within my growth habit take on the characteristics of a life spent living and working in the Motor City. Many years working in factories and painting their walls, surfaces, and machines have left their mark on me. Industrial colors, iron ore and rust, the shapes of tools and dies, the sweeping aerodynamic curves of car design, the OSHA Safety Standard colors themselves, combine with the naturally inspired growth habit resulting in this curious hybrid, which is my painting.”
In The Laws Governing Exceptions, the biting teeth of gears churn into this geometric presentation. The lighter center draws the eye while shadowed edges lend depth and drama to the composition. The subtle complimentary palette sources tension.
Warmer tones soften distinct lines which form the subject. Pentimenti, a reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist, keeps this picture from becoming harsh in its rendering.
Besides the brilliant title, which per the artist has little to do with the painting, this picture reads more like a beginning to something rather than the final word. In an interview with Vian, he mentions this series of works vary in their level of perceived completion. This one provides insight into his process demonstrating exceptional line work in developing the shapes that will form a reasoned and discernible composition.
In that recorded interview, available to paid subscribers, we discuss this picture in particular as well as how he comes up with the titles for these works. I chose Ducks Unlimited because layers of decisions on various marks are allowed to remain causing a far less clean result than the others and I wanted to know why?
Rick Vian’s style began with similar patterns seen in this exhibition. He then moved to looser more expressive works for a while, spent some time illustrating the lives of Northwoods’ trees, and has now returned to those earlier narrations. After decades of making premier abstractions, Vian is still on fire and showing the rest of us how to evolve and continue pedaling toward excellence.
On view through Feb 18th at M Contemporary 205 E 9 Mile Ferndale
*images courtesy of M Contemporary
direct quote from gallery materials
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