Peter Frank Writes About Li Trincere’s “Hard Edgy” Geometric Paintings at David Richard Gallery, NY
Li Trincere, Hard Edge, Geometric Paintings: 1986-1990 David Richard Gallery, 2023
LI-TRINCERE: HARD EDGY
By Peter Frank
In the reflexive history of late-modernist art, “hard-edge painting” persists as a broadly practiced style but eludes attempts to fix it in terms of meaning and context. At the time (and place) of its emergence, in New York at the end of the 1950s, hard-edge painting presented itself as an alternative to – and at the same time oblique variant of – abstract expressionism, and it directly prefigured minimalism, but it was neither of those. Rather than obscure or dissolve relational dynamics between formal elements, hard-edge painting re-valorized, even re-awoke, the notion of composition as a (perhaps the) prime factor in the formulation of artwork. It was not simply the image that was determined by formal relations, but the painting as an integral object – a concept literalized by hard-edge work incorporating shaped canvas.
Hard-edge – including shaped-canvas – painting flourished as a recognized “movement” (or two) in the first half of the ‘60s, but had emerged earlier in the evolution of individual artists associated with the tendency (e.g. Ellsworth Kelly, Leon Polk Smith, Jack Youngerman) and connected quite openly with modalities of geometric abstraction that went back to the 1910s. Hard-edge painting, an American manifestation, was in dialogue to some extent with its postwar European counterparts, but looked more to earlier loci such as the Bauhaus, de Stijl, Cercle et Carré, and other post-cubist phenomena. Hard-edge painting carried over the formal clarity and vibrant color of these high-modernist movements but eased the brittle counterpoint of cubist-derived composition into an articulation of field rather than of form – or, more to the point, field as form.
The elusiveness of hard-edge painting results in no small part from its transitional nature as an historical style, bridging the mega-movements of abstract expressionism and minimalism. But the continuing appeal of hard-edge practice, which has resulted in its stubborn recrudescence in various American art centers over the last two-thirds of a century, also makes it a difficult “ism” to package (especially as a “wasm”). And yet, hard-edge abstraction endures, presenting and re-presenting itself as an alternative to whatever kind of abstraction, or painting in general, might be in vogue at any given time, in any given place.
Having emerged around 1980 and having persisted in her hard-edge approach up until today, Li-Trincere demonstrates both the diffidence and the appeal of the hard edge. Trincere is dedicated to the practice almost ideologically, regarding it as an outgrowth, even shaper, of personal lifestyle and intellectual/poetic inquiry. Her commitment to a formal language of bold, crisply articulated form, vibrant color, and a compositional sense that conflates the monumental with the dynamic, the formidable with the fragmented, has held steady throughout her career. What Trincere has sought unstintingly has been an expression of the urban environment, refined into a visual language that celebrates modern life as an optical ecology of urgent signage and irrepressible kinesis. Beauty for Trincere is energy, and vice versa.
Clearly, the ethos as well as (perhaps even more than) the aesthetic of Trincere’s art harks back to Italian Futurism. (Compare her recent jagged, serialized works to the post-World War I abstractions of Giacomo Balla, for instance, or the proto-Art Deco images of Fortunato Depero.) The parallel here, however, is more one of attitude than of manner. At the time of Trincere’s emergence the Futurists’ tough, streetwise stance had been revived by Punk, a social as well as musical phenomenon with which Trincere, and the circle of artists she associated with in the 1980s, strongly Identified. They considered their flat, roughly architectural, picture-plane-adhering approach as, perhaps literally, emblematic of city life and social alienation. Theirs was a tough abstraction, easy to read but commanding respect for its intricacy as well as for its presence.
Note that Trincere and her circle – including painters such as Ted Stamm, Alan Uglow, Steven Parrino, Olivier Mosset, and Mary Obering – were active at a time when another kind of geometric strategy was attracting attention. The “neo-geo” of artists such as Peter Halley, Peter Nagy, and Ashley Bickerton came out of conceptual art and structuralist and post-structuralist theory, proposing in effect a non-objective version of what is now called the “pictures generation.” Trincere and her friends preferred a neo-modernist tack, oppositional, dramatic, and devoted to rather than dismissive of visual pleasure. It would seem ironic that these Punk-inspired painters would leave the nihilism to their cooler contemporaries; but, as their practice evinced, Punk itself, born of furious alienation and delirious cameraderie, was anything but nihilistic.
Was – and is – Trincere’s aesthetic, then, “re-geo”? Has it over-relied on the valorizing context(s) of the geometric art movements and painters that have influenced and prefigured her? Relied, yes; over-relied, no. Even as she professes the direct influence of Leon Polk Smith and Frank Stella, among others, Trincere adds to the vocabulary of envisionment she inherited from them and their modernist forebears. She is no mere revivalist, having formulated her style four decades ago and evolved, elaborated upon, and experimented with it consistently ever since. The earmarks of Trincere’s relational geometries readily distinguish hers from anyone else’s, even as they readily display her artistic heritage. Practicing an aggressively non-neutral aesthetic, she reasserts the geometric image, flag-like, as a declaration of presence and at the same time a site of visual gratification. Li-Trincere is not and has not been alone in her proud adherence to neo-modernist plastic values. But she is notable for the fervor of that adherence, and for the stunning structures that have long emerged from that fervor.