Painter Katy Kirbach’s dimensional woven grid canvases amplify warp and weft. Her solo exhibition’s title Parties and Days at Bar4000 refers to the paintings’ color palettes that belong to the realm of either day or night. Kirbach primes cotton canvas with intense acrylic hues cuts the fabric into even strips, weaves the complementary contrasting strips into grids and assembles them onto stretcher bars. Once the intertwined grids are taut, Kirbach embellishes layers with detailed geometric patterns in translucent triangles of oil paint. In each painting, vibrant patterns align, overlap, and stack-up in undulating waves. From a distance, woven and painted patterns intersect and seem to move simultaneously centrifugally and centripetally like the constant flow of a circulatory system or power grid. The optical one-two punch of the intense colors on the woven substrate compounds pleasurable optical vibrations.
Metallic and translucent passages of oil paint create sensitive and subtle shifts in the depth of field. Pastels and primaries recall sunrise or mid-afternoon light, while neons and blacks evoke jostling dance clubs or blinking neon signs at dusk. Visible canvas strips wrap around the sides of stretcher bar frames. Gaps between the strips reveal the wooden frame and generate an equally physical and pictorial tension. Kirbach’s construction complicates the relation of the edge, a paradox where image and objecthood coalesce. In Painting and the Graphic Arts, philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin talks about the tendency to read signs horizontality and to orient paintings and drawings verticality. Kirbach’s paintings are signs where horizontality and verticality converge and productively obliterate any simple binary. These paintings are signs that point to themselves as self-contained systems. The vibrancy and tempo of Kirbach’s work seem related yet rides on a distinctly different wavelength than painter Peter Halley’s neo-geo prisons or conduits, for example.
Abstraction is never simply about abstraction. This way of constructing grounds for painting intentionally highlight the labor, raw material, and structures embedded in, but not limited to, the spectacle of painting. Kirbach’s woven grids extend a grid lineage beyond modernism. Perhaps the patterns and repetitions in Kirbach’s work not only infer day and night but also straddle realms of binary code and pre-digital styles such as Mondrian’s famous painted homage to New York, Broadway Boogie-Woogie. By employing woven grids as both substructure and design motif, Kirbach generates a doubling or visual echo of shape and image, visual rhythm and decoration, movement-as-subject which are hallmarks of the Op Art movement. These paintings are as much about the act of looking as they are about confronting the viewer’s expectation for symbolism that is not easily locatable. Kirbach only provides open-ended hints in the titles.
Kirbach’s sensitivity to layering, to touch, the hand and to a time of day is reminiscent of Minimalist sculptor Anne Truitt’s practice of making color both physical and sculptural with esoteric color combinations on simplified geometric forms. In many of Truitt’s works, titles allude to the color’s relationship to place or time such as Dawn City, much like Kirbach’s strategy to ground chromatic sensibility. Yet Kirbach’s material sensibility seems more related to Truitt’s 2D series entitled Pliths canvas shredded into round shapes and displayed horizontally complicating their presence as both 2D and 3D.
There is an easy confidence evident in Kirbach’s largest work, The Height of Summer. Here grids play by an irreverent set of rules. Halfway through the picture plane, the woven section gives way to intense neon color fields of shimmering turquoise, hot pinks and raw canvas that seem pulled from a shadeless bright day at the beach. Color choices prompt questions about color-as-readymade (from an art supply store or pigment manufacturer) versus specificity of local color that is influenced by time of day and place. Color in Kirbach’s work seems to originate from nearly any contemporary source on a spectrum that favors predominantly synthetic hues. Kirbach’s work infuses hand-made humanness to complicate and defy stereotypes of modernist grids as cold and escapist forms. This work extends hard edge abstraction into the nuanced territory of the omnipresent grids present in everyday life.