Virginia Martinsen made a grand comeback to New York’s art scene last Thursday with the opening of her solo show Exhibition Space at Chelsea’s Mike Weiss Gallery. The city has been starved of Martinsen’s talents for six years too long since she last exhibited unaccompanied at ATM Gallery in the fall of 2009. Her style has since matured but maintained its unique air of bold abstract expressionism moderated by a somber color scheme.
As a practitioner of action painting, Martinsen plays with and tests the potentials of oil paint, exploring in depth its relationship to the canvas and her own association in the artistic process. Armed with oils and parched pigment, she allows the ingredients to flow, separate, and mingle on the backdrop creating work that is as much about the journey as it is the finished product. And for most of that journey Martinsen stands firmly on the sidelines. Once she pours out paint from above onto a horizontally positioned canvas, she allows gravity and other natural forces to intercede and shape the work in place of her own aesthetic touch.
Amidst the group of oil paintings that make up her latest exhibit, Martinsen’s abstract expressionist style explores more directly another relationship in the art world, that with the exhibitory arena. She renders in her works the corporeal characteristics of a gallery or studio – the ashen floors, cream walls, wooden rafters, shadowed nooks and crannies – so that the hung product looks to seep and blend with its environs, as a mirrored exchange transpires directly before the viewer. Alongside those physical embodiments, Martinsen’s oil paintings also cast a light on the intangible attributes of the art space, such as the artist and viewers’ presence and absence, the passing of time, and the constancy of the art itself. Space is also reconfigured and teased in the smaller photographic collages that Martinsen supplements. Some entirely abstract their surfaces, while others maintain familiar dimensions, but all engage and to a certain degree challenge their immediate surroundings.
Taken together, Exhibition Space stretches beyond Martinsen’s signature freeform and gestural style of painting into a collection that intends to show more clearly the relationships between the artist, the art, and, most importantly, the space that houses the two.
Virginia Martinsen: Exhibition Space
Mike Weiss Gallery
Oct 22 – Dec 5th, 2015
520 West 24th Street, NYC
Writing by Lisa Marsova
Photographs provided by the gallery and Arte Fuse