Called Little Grand Canyon Yellow, this 1964 painting by Howard Thomas is hung next to a vitrine of small, re-purposed glass jars at the Georgia Museum of Art. The title of the work was intended literally. The artist made the yellow pigment from earth from the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it is not coincidental this painting preceded the earthworks of Robert Smithson and Ana Mendieta of the 1970s. Although still on canvas, Thomas engages with site through the locally sourced pigment that are referenced in the title. The style of the work, however, rather than being a fragmented areal view, seems to me more like formalist play because of the centered shapes bounded by the canvas, suggesting no expansive horizon, and the disjointed layerings that creates a tone-on-tone sense of motion or depth.
The glass jars showing Thomas’s pigments have fascinating labels, like the one below labelled “Frat House.” What kind of painting might that have been used in versus the one above, I wonder.
Pure color resonance from the Byzantine mosaics of the Fruska Gora monasteries of northern Serbia and Yves Klien’s monochromatic canvases at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
These frescoes at the Velika Remeta monastery are the newest I saw of the three monasteries I visited that day. They were all Serbian Orthodox churches that had moved to these lush rolling hills to escape the Ottoman invasions. The old churches were later surrounded, quite close up, by newer cloisters, where monks, nuns, or sometimes both together, always led by a male priest, cared for the church and community. In the first one the bright, bold frescoes were relatively new, but still in the flat Byzantine style and surrounding a valuable icon of the three-handed Virgin Mary. I saw copies of this icon in the next two monasteries as well, all after from the same original that is apparently very special and located in present-day Ukraine. The continuity of tradition was striking.
When I was in Stockholm a few weeks later, the blues and golds reminded me forcefully of the Orthodox church decoration I had seen, particularly this first one.