David Richard Gallery is pleased to present, Forces of Nature on the Grand Stage: Paintings from 1988 to 1995, a solo exhibition of paintings by artist Sonia Gechtoff (1926 Philadelphia, PA - 2018, New York, NY). At first glance these paintings seem very different from the artist’s earlier works from the 1950s and 60s with their large passages of a single hue, defined shapes and representational elements. However, closer examination and comparative analysis reveals far more formal and aesthetic similarities throughout the artist’s oeuvre and nearly seven-decade career. And, what might seem like significant differences are really just extensions and grander manifestations of the hallmarks of and inspiration for Gechtoff’s paintings and graphite drawings from the 1950s and 60s.
The current exhibition looks critically at a selection of paintings from 1988 to 1995 that are organized roughly into two visual groups. First, those that have a range of any of the following structures: architectural elements that function as framing devices, visual portals to direct the viewer’s attention, an arching structure like the proscenium of a theatre stage or columnar structures. The second group has more of an emphasis on forces of nature including waves, wind and fire as well as spherical structures that reference the sun, moon and celestial bodies. Gechtoff referred to these spheres in the 1960s as “Icons”, inspired by her Russian heritage and interest in religious iconography.
An important realization from the analysis is that the later career paintings clearly reference and continue Gechtoff’s painting style and approach from the 1950s and 60s with her strong, bold and physical strokes with the palette knife, regal colors and thick application of medium to not only apply pigment to the canvas, but to simultaneously build and sculpt the surface with texture and the artist’s hand fully present, melding with the pigment to create something utterly dynamic and spectacular with strong undercurrents of sweeping movement across the canvas. Also notable is the continued use of black for the grounds in her later works, but with larger fields of saturated color than in her paintings from the 1950s, which was coincident with her move to New York from San Francisco in the late 50s. Another striking feature in her later works is the use of graphite on top of the painted surfaces to add definition, provide modeling and bringing drawing together with painting. A small selection of paintings, drawings and lithographs from the 1950s and 60s will also be available to illustrate several of these formal and compositional similarities between the decades.
Many of the features discussed and exhibited in the paintings from the 80s and 90s were always present in her paintings in the 1950s and 60s. Clearly, between these two periods, Gechtoff initially used an oil stick instead of graphite to define and accentuate her compositions, oil medium instead of acrylic to apply pigment, and a palette knife instead of a brush to move the pigment and create the lush surfaces. However, the real visual and compositional difference is that in the 80s, the artist also made a conscious decision to shift her focus from just the gesture and nuancing her interests in nature and architecture by reducing them to a surface treatment and textural detail of her paintings to blowing them up and making that imagery the focus of the composition and center stage.
Gechtoff was fascinated with forces of nature and she herself was a force of nature on many levels, as an artist, wife, mother, teacher and colleague. She was inspired by her passion for art, but also grand opera, theatre and the stage. Gechtoff painted with the opera at full volume, which transported her to a different place and unleashed a power that brought together bold pigment, slashing strokes, swirling texture and forces from beyond to create a raging storm or inferno on her canvas.