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Dee Shapiro: In The Beginning... Selections From 1974 through 1980

March 30, 2021

Dee Shapiro’s earliest works were rigorously geometric, mostly organized on a grid using lines and points to move across her supports of canvas or paper. Influenced by years of sewing, knitting and needle work with her mother and grandmother, she was accustomed to counting and maintaining rigorous sequences and patterns top of mind and always in her sight line.

This presentation focuses on an interesting and important time in Shapiro’s career, the mid-to-late 1970s through 1981. During this period, she leveraged the organizational grids and mark making (like connecting loops of yarn in knitting or hooking and knotting a rug) with her love of lines (think of a grid, the warp and weft in weaving) and passion for color to aesthetically merge paint and textiles. Acrylic paint was not brushed or pulled with a palette knife on her canvases, instead, she extruded it directly from tubes though a small tip, painstakingly and drop-by-drop (a derivation of pointillism with a brief drag connecting to the next “point”), transforming the fluid medium into individual “knots” of pigment. The resulting surfaces were rich and lush, full of densely pixilated pigment, casting shadows and providing depth on the surface like a woven textile. The complex patterns were the product of her use of mathematical algorithms, like the Fibonacci Sequence. The paintings include: chevron patterns zig-zagging across the canvas; dizzying spirals; and elaborate short horizontal lines of the same length that also create vertical columns providing an overlay of another pattern of angled lines spanning from edge to edge diagonally across the canvases.

A similar process was used with watercolor markers and graph paper to create very complex layers and interacting structures of pattern-on-pattern in bold colors that contained: arrays of linear colored stripes with irregular voids of pigment that are reminiscent of punch cards in the early days of computers; chevron shapes contained within circular structures like wedges of a colorful pie; and the full spectrum of colors in a fluid serpentine shape that moves across the entire page creating circular shapes with quartered interior geometric designs.

Always drawing and working with pencil and line compositions, works on paper were and still are a staple and mainstay of Shapiro’s studio practice. Several spectacular, very detailed drawings with graphite and neutral-colored pencils on black construction paper will also be presented. These drawings are comprised of vertical and slightly angled hash marks laid down in grids to create arrays of horizontal lines contained within wider vertical columnar structures. Great examples of the repeating hash mark generating the strong horizontal lines while shifts in values and colors across the horizontals create the wider vertical columns that organizes the composition. Not quite a plaid, but an overlay of a pattern on a series of patterned marks that look like a woven wool textile.

About Dee Shapiro:

The Artist’s Statement: As in a dream of alternative realities, absurd connections, or on a trip passing familiar landscapes in unfamiliar settings, new conscious and unconscious associations are brought to a two-dimensional surface in my work. In the recent pieces, geometry (seen even in the structure of organic forms) directs composition: arbitrary drops of color undermine control and create shapes that succumb to the overwork of drawings, rendering obsessive intricacies and paint applications to build the forms. Collaged materials add extraneous influences in a subtle blend.

In the beginning was pattern. First, the Fibonacci progression color coded on graph paper, a piece which landed in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. Next, inclusion in the Pattern and Decoration (P & D) exhibition at PS1, followed by a series of work that included architectural elements “off the grid”. With all the work, always color and a nod to the Albers’ studies. A redirection to small horizontal paintings of the geometry in cities and landscapes ensued for a number of years.

Missing the early fascination and engagement with pattern led to more recent work exploring evocative biological and organic forms, the evolution of which is the more recent work as well as borrowing from sources that include other artist’s work in a collaborative effort. In this new body of work, I am unflinchingly forging ahead to newly wrought terrain.

Recent Exhibitions and Select Collections: Dee Shapiro’s painting, Rotunda, 1980 was included in the Pattern and Decoration exhibition, With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985, organized by Anna Katz, Curator, with Rebecca Lowery, Assistant Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from October, 2019 through May, 2020.

Shapiro’s artworks are included in the permanent collections of many museums, foundations and private collections, including the following: Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo, NY, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL, Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, Citibank Collection, NYC, Dartmouth Museum of Art, Hanover, NH, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC, Heckscher Museum, Huntington, NY, Hoffman-LaRoche Collection, Zurich, Switzerland, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC, Neuberger Museum, Purchase, NY, Newark Museum, Newark, NJ, New York University Collection, NYC, Oklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City, OK, Owens-Corning Corp., Corning, NY, Pepsico Corporation, NY, Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS, United States Department of State, Washington, DC, University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AK and William Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, Mount Kisco, NY, among numerous others.

All Artwork Copyright © Dee Shapiro, Courtesy David Richard Gallery. Installation Photographs Copyright © David Eichholtz

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