Works on Paper
"Solitude and Paint: Melinda Stickney-Gibson"
Follow this link to watch the video "Solitude and Paint: Melinda Stickney-Gibson", a short film profile of the painter produced by photographers Camille Vickers and Greg Beechler
A 2012 recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant award, Melinda Stickney-Gibson was born in Springfield, Illinois and attended Arizona State University. She currently lives and works in upstate New York. Her paintings are in the realm of abstraction in which the artist investigates the act of painting itself; the plasticity of the medium, the beauty of allowing “accident” to work in tandem with intention and skill, resulting in paintings that are lush, thoughtful, and organic in form.
Melinda Stickney-Gibson's new series of paintings continues her investigation into the nature of paint and painterly gesture. Influences for these works can be seen in the paintings of Joan Mitchell, Robert Ryman, Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin and Nancy Spero. Neither completely abstract nor representational, her paintings reflect upon the natural world just outside the door of her Catskill Mountain home, as well as her more internal, personal narratives.
Stickney-Gibson greatly values the solitude and quiet of life in the Catskills. Her work is characterized by a diaristic, personal approach. Paintings with multi-layered surfaces begin with written marks; incorporating fragments of writing from her own journals, favorite writing samples by others, and universal words such as "yes, "maybe", "no?", and "her". These marks represent specific moments; each one has an intention which once fulfilled is checked off and covered over. The paintings have an underlying hidden narrative which is eventually erased when a final white top layer of paint covers the gesture. In this way Stickney-Gibson is sharing but still keeping her stories personal. Most evident in this work is the artist's relationship and longtime love of the physical act of painting, and her visceral love of the paint itself. She states that "though not comfortable with being labeled an Abstract Expressionist, she is in fact abstractly expressing herself and that, for her, painting is a very physical activity."
The works in this exhibition depart from those that came earlier in that they are quieter, more meditative paintings that give an invitation to pause and reflect. They are more streamlined and reduced to what the artist feels is most important. She considers this to be "an exercise in discipline-- keeping the work simple yet confident."
Stickney-Gibson begins her process with photographs she takes of her outdoor environment and then uses them as references. Though these are not landscape paintings there is an unconscious horizon line, which is not surprising given the sweeping view from her window to a distant mountain range, and her lush natural surroundings. After many years spent between New York City and upstate New York, the artist moved full time to the Catskill Mountains in 2003. The influence of nature is clearly evident in these abstract works—but they are also reflections of the artists' internal psychic landscape. The blue abstracted hydrangea flower in "Know, No (...still)" has a vibrant intensity, whereas "Here" is solemn and melancholic, with a sense of stark alone-ness.
She has been exhibiting her work since the mid-1980's. Originally from the Midwest, and currently based in Woodstock, NY, the artist has been living and working in New York for over 30 years. She has had over 25 one-person exhibitions, and has participated in numerous group shows throughout the country. In addition, Stickney-Gibson curated "DIALOGUES" at Kouros Gallery, NY, NY, in 2009, and "LINE" at Butters Gallery, Portland, OR, in 2012. Her work has been reviewed in ARTnews, ARTS Magazine, REVIEW Magazine, Neoteric Art, ARTNET, and others.
Art like Life
For Melinda Stickney-Gibson, painting is like life - messy, full of accidents and underlain with semi-orderly structures that bend and disintegrate under pressure of real life action. Her lyrical paintings are not so much painted as allowed to evolve, growing by accretion over periods of weeks or months (or at times, even years), as loose brushstrokes are laid over looser grids, fields of color laid down to partially obscure sketchy marks, and traces of covered layers revealed by a subtle cut through the surface. These works are rife with hints of the nature-based abstract expressionism of Joan Mitchell, the atmospheric fields of Whistler, and the analytic reductiveness of Robert Ryman. As in the work of those artists, the final compositions are full of evidence of the process that created them, yielding a subtle complexity that could never have been envisioned at the beginning.
-Eleanor Heartney, 2010
Stickney-Gibson tends to work on many paintings at once - lining them up along the walls of her studio, moving back and forth from one painting to another and allowing them to communicate with each other as they slowly develop over time. Surprisingly, given this treatment of art works almost as a collective entity, each painting has a strongly individualistic identity. Stickney-Gibson notes that one of the things she learned from her study of the works of painter Phillip Guston is that shapes have personalities - in her paintings roughly edged rectangular shapes may cluster together as if for protection within white grounds, or they may expand outward, as if seeping into the entire surrounding world. In other works, marks never really coalesce into discernible forms, instead evoking shadowy forms glimpsed through heavy fog, or shimmers of color evident in the fractured reflections on the surface of a troubled lake.
After spending time between New York City and upstate New York for many years, in 2003 she moved to the Catskill Mountains full time. One feels the influence of nature in these otherwise completely abstract works - they seem at times saturated with the magical, glowing light of early dawn, for instance, or the gloom of deepening night, or the saturated reds and oranges of the forest in autumn. But at the same time, one is also aware of these works as records of an internal landscape. They reflect emotional states as well as natural ones. For Stickney-Gibson shadings of light and dark and juxtapositions of vivid against near monochromatic fields of black or white serve as staging grounds for the dramas of the heart and mind. The shadows that sometimes seem to be passing over her paintings might equally be manifestations of the ever changing interplay of light and color in nature that so fascinated the Impressionists, and the expression of passing feelings of exaltation, doubt, sorrow and peace that form the backdrop to daily existence.
These works make clear that for Stickney-Gibson painting is not just akin to life, but in a certain sense is the thing itself. We as viewers respond to these works because we recognize in them the ever shifting, often chaotic, and richly layered nature of the reality we all share.
Melinda Stickney-Gibson, ARTnews Magazine, June 2009
"All the paintings in this smart and appealing show were 26 by 22 inches, all were dated 2008, and all were painted in oil on paper. Melinda Stickney-Gibson is an accomplished practitioner of the art of expressive mark-making. She is well versed in post-Cubist, post-Post-Impressionist, and post-Abstract Expressionist rhetorics that make abstraction such a fertile territory for artists of a certain intelligence and sensibility. But unlike some nonrepresentational artists who paint themselves into a stylistic corner, Stickney-Gibson makes paintings in which pretty much anything is possible.
In a picture like Prayers & Secrets, an angry, bloody, red-orange scribble at the right of the picture's middle is offset by a paler, slightly more disciplined orange patch to the left. The darker area is topped by a little pile of penciled-in bricks, while the other has something like a shopping bag handle attached to it. Although her paintings are strewn with associations of this sort, such fragments serve primarily as compositional reference points rather than specific depictions. But in precisely the same way that a color can suggest emotional pitch, or a type of paint handling can hint at agitation of calm, these little elements of a representation language are able to inflect our readings of Stickney-Gibson's pictures and provide clues to their ambitions.
Despite their relatively small size and modest materials, these are paintings that seek to address big issues. An artist who calls a picture Prayers & Secrets is clearly interested in something more significant than pleasing arrangements of paint, and this territory of utter abstraction and fragmentary image-making is about as difficult a one as a painter can steer herself into."