Anne Deleporte, Untitled, gesso and newspaper mounted on canvas, 2016
FADE to BLACK
For a second time Anne Deleporte references a fabled actress in the title of an exhibition, tarnishing that person’s sweet reputation by mixing her up with the macabre. Julie Andrews was the first victim in "Mary Poppins is a Junky". This time the artist borrows a quote from Shirley MacLaine who once called the evening news her favorite horror show. On a visit to her studio, I take note of Deleporte’s cropped blue-black hair, and small deft hands that love to hold cigarettes almost as much as they do paintbrushes. So much for Barthes' Death of the Author, knowing her, seeing her, reinforces my psychological read on her art — I am especially drawn to her black paintings.
Before working on this exhibition I was creating a mental list of artists who use black as a formal device: Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson, Frank Stella, and Nan Goldin among them. Some like to meditate on what black can do with light (especially in monochrome). Others use black as a foundation on which to support their composition, using it like an endoskeleton. That said not all black is the same. This year Anish Kapoor copyrighted a color developed by the military called Vantablack, gaining exclusive rights to a pigment that absorbs 99.965% of radiant light. Louise Nevelson referred to black as “an aristocratic color” and valued the harmony she thought it gave her sculptures. She dramatically coated the rims of her eyes with heavy makeup so that she was quite literally, looking through black.
In synesthetic terms experiencing black can conjure sensations of heaviness and seriousness, yielding expressions like black of night, the black death, black tidings, black friday, black deeds, black humor. Deleporte depends upon these cultural connotations as an emotional counterpoint to the inherently lighter qualities of her work. She constructs her canvases beginning with a daily newspaper secured around its entirety, as if she were wrapping a gift. She then paints over the newspaper surface with an even coat of black Liquitex gesso, so by the end, few areas of its content remain visible. She allows the newspaper to remain totally bare only along the rectangular edge of the 1.5 inch depth of the painting. This important detail isn’t obvious at first, and it underlines the fact that Deleporte is wittingly hiding a great deal on the surface: the visually uninteresting, the text, or the pages of political unrest that once shared the same publication. Her crisp brushstrokes outline only small fragments of design, advertising, art, lifestyle, generally content that looks to be from the urbane sections of The New York Times.
With black surrounding them, the isolated images float on the surface, free to be examined out of context: a bird, a sculpture, a crown, a painting, a Christie’s logo, some crumbling bread. Though she culls from a variety of sections, Deleporte tends to preserve the banal or the decorative in non-hierarchal terms. Particularly in her larger paintings, the edited images read as a constellation of colorful cultural artifacts occupying one dark sky.
In as much as the artist is creating surrealistic dreams in which the sleepy unconscious is haunted by first-world symbols, my favorite detail of such works shows a man walking a dog past a Jasper Johns painting. The man is on the side of the canvas, the leash, dog, and the Johns wraps onto the front. Strolling along in their lucky universe, black will still be the end of them — black because this redaction in white just wouldn’t have the same affect. Blanc (white) = blank (empty). Benjamin Moore hues frostline, etiquette, and simply white for example, would read as a white wash in the painter's same works. Kind of like Julie Andrews singing in the Alps but without the heroin. I suspect that for Deleporte and with many artists, black isn’t as much a choice as it is a necessity. Because she presents a kind of memory lapse, black is the culmination of everything and then suddenly, its complete and utter disappearance.
Pictured: limited edition newspaper with curators' writings