George Nelson Preston at Nina Johnson Gallery Miami. February 2022
George Preston’s recent show at Nina Johnson Gallery. Miami, mirrors his lifelong, (83 years to date), engagement with painting, with art history, with music, and with his African ethnic origins.
The work represents a comprehensive and nuanced integration of an unusually broad range of historical aesthetic strands that also form a thoughtful body of work; one that includes strong formal and personal innovation.
During his Talk at Nina Johnson Gallery, Preston mentioned Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, African masks and textiles, Impressionist Masters, New York artist Joan Mitchell, among others,….and Jazz.
A lifelong New Yorker, Preston came of age, and has lived most of his life, in an era dominated by ’The New York School’:
-A New York just Post -Ash Can School, of the Abstract Expressionists, of Pop, of 1980’s Neo-Expressionism, and, of course, of Minimal / Conceptual Intellectualism. …from Walt Kuhn and Edward Hopper, to de Kooning and Motherwell, Warhol and Licthenstein, Basquiat and Haring…
And it shows:
- His freely defined brushwork manages to assimilate highly conceptualized brevity with a subtly charged gestural power, and a sometimes subtle but definitive rendition of traditional pictorial space.
The palette is also spare and reliant on softish color combo’s, but he adroitly manages to incorporate raw black punctuation into these rather dreamy compositions too.
- As if for example, the rigorous restraint of Robert Ryman, or liberty of Joan Mitchell, were carefully applied to create an inviting spatial event that might represent a deliberate interpretation of some thing, or some space that is somewhat, but by no means entirely, familiar to the viewer.
- Clearly an ardent historicist, (as well as a self-proclaimed ‘colorist’), Preston takes well-learned lessons from so many of these earlier contemporaries without falling into any sort of ‘derivative trap’: The work stands on it’s own unique aesthetic foundations ,that seem carefully, thoughtfully constructed. Even so, these paintings retain an important ingredient of New York School ,(and perhaps American Art in general): a sense of spontaneous energy, of movement, and of celebratory individuality.
These compositions possess an understated, often contradictory complexity that resonate a subtle engagement that feels inviting, mildly demanding, and ultimately quite satiating.: The Show evokes a lingering sense of aesthetic resolution that happens all too rarely (for this viewer).
In his own words, Preston mentions ‘tension’ as a requisite aesthetic ingredient. In this case, the spatial definitions of various works; nominally Still Life, Landscape, or Portraiture, all seem more implied, than defined…As if these old-school categories were rendered subservient to tenets of late 20th century Modernism, in a way that retains enough ‘Figurative‘ reference to invite viewers into a place that seems vaguely familiar, but one where they’ll have to do some internal work if they really want to ‘make sense of it’….
…and ultimately a rather personal, rather than formal, sense of connection; and of feeling.
1. 2021 ‘Somewhere on the Trail From Zambezi to Luanda’ 48”x 72”
2.2021 ‘Somewhere between Sikasso and Martinique’ 43” x 77”
3. 2021’ ‘Emblematic Vision of The Middle Passage’ 42” x77”
4. 2019. ‘Fetiche et Fleurs’ 46” x 72”
5. 2018 ‘The Burning of the Clotilda’ 40” x 60”
6. 2019. ‘Because of King Ghezo’s Caprice, We Left Ouidah at Dusk’ 18” x 24”
7. 2020. ‘The Nixsi On The Table, Entitled Fetiche et Fleurs’ 60” x 72”