Mary Corse has mastered the art of producing deceptively simple paintings. Take “Untitled (White Multiband, Vertical Strokes),” 2003: a wide, rectangular painting of vertical stripes in a trio of light gray gradations. It would be easy to attribute the influence of Minimalist painting on her practice. Yet these paintings play tricks on the eye, courtesy of the glass microspheres (often found in the reflective lines on highways) that are embedded in the acrylic paint which Corse applies to the canvas in these geometric striations. For Corse, an LA-based artist who first gained recognition in the mid-1960s through her association with the Light and Space movement that included contemporaries like James Turrell and Robert Irwin, Abstract Expressionism (surprisingly enough) and scientific enquiry have played an equally significant role in the development of her innovative painting technique.
Her first major solo exhibition in the UK at Lisson Gallery, on view until June 23, brings together a selection of 10 recent works, spanning 2003 to 2018, out of which seven have been created specifically for the exhibition. The show also includes multiple pieces from her “White Band” and “Black Band” series, with which she has continued to experiment and hone her technique, as well as “Untitled (Electric Light),” 1968/2017, an installation composed of argon and Plexiglas.
After having graduated from CalArts in 1968, Corse enrolled in a physics course at the University of Southern California where she was introduced to quantum physics. After her BFA, Corse was already pushing boundaries on the effect of light on surface and space via experimental white monochrome paintings on shaped canvases and Plexiglas constructions illuminated by fluorescent light bulbs. Then, her study of physics confirmed her belief that “there is nothing static in the universe.” Afterward, her practice has been predicated on a compulsive engagement with light’s effect on human perception, and a quest to find new and innovative ways of addressing the idea of subjective experience and of heightening consciousness. As such, her paintings strike a fine balance between a scientific precision and rigor that leaves nothing to chance or accident with a romantic portrayal of infinity whose result is quietly seductive.
In 1999, Corse began a series of “White Inner Band” paintings, which were borne out of her research, and creation of the “inner band,” a vertical stripe full of luminous, active brushstrokes, in which the hand of the artist is both visibly present but that also has the capacity to disappear into the surrounding canvas when viewed from certain angles.
If light has been the driving force behind Corse’s experiments throughout these years, it is only natural then that her body of work also encompasses white’s antithesis: black. Interspersed with the microsphere-filled pale strips of paint, when Corse has recourse to black, the acrylic too sparkles like glitter. Walking from one end of a canvas to another, we are invited to take our time, to stop, look and bask in the visual instability that her work delights in.
"Mary Corse" will be on view at the Lisson Gallery, 67 Lisson Street in London, May 11-June 20.
Click on the slideshow for a sneak peek at the exhibition.
Founder Louise Blouin