Terry Greene recently drew my attention to an open letter from David Rhodes to Philip Guston. Then I saw this other letter from Rhodes to an artist whose work I have been getting to know recently: Moira Dryer. His letter at brooklynrail.org tells of a visit to Carol Szymanski and Barry Schwabsky in New York, seeing a small gouache by Dryer (photo) and being impressed by it. He comments on her approach to painting, about her influence on abstraction and regrets her passing (she died in 1992, when she was only 34 years old). He seems to agree with a comment I found by Bob Nickas that “she managed to make abstraction feel vital again” at a time when it no longer seemed as urgent or vibrant as it once did.
Here’s a picture I took of her wonderful painting entitled The Vanishing Self Portrait. I have written about it before, when I compared it to two other “abstract portraits”.
I wondered if there were any of her paintings in UK collections, and so far I haven’t been able to find any (please let me know in ‘comments’ if you come across one). Instead I found this video at Rough Cuts of a painting show at Harris Lieberman N.Y. where we get to see one of Dryer’s paintings (at 2.50 and between 6.38 and 7.07 mins). In his commentary, James Kalm doesn’t tell us if it has a title. He does bring our attention to the handles attached to the sides and says that’s common for Dryer. Like the tree stump in the one above, they emphasise the support. With the tree stump I feel reminded of the connection to nature, there’s no getting away from it even in abstraction. With the handles, it is more the process of painting Vs utility that I connect to: was the stretcher held by the handles and tilted to control the flow of wet paint? I doubt it, but I like that the artwork gets me guessing about that.
For Dryer, painting is theatre, performance, and in both these paintings it seems appropriate to be thinking about how they were made. In The Vanishing Self Portrait the brush strokes, (or possibly erasure strokes) look gestural, I imagine the artist extending her arm from one end of the canvas to the other. Then I realise that it’s probably too wide to have been made that way. But here I am, considering the making of it and speculating about the details of that performance, whilst clearly seeing its results directly in front of me.