"The use of the module, or basic unit, although most frequently associated with architecture or sculpture, seems equally applicable to some recent American painting. Common to the diverse concerns of the eight artists* represented in this exhibition is the use of geometric units as structural elements. In all cases, physically separate modules are constructed, as opposed to those represented on a surface (as with the grids of Agnes Martin or Will Insley, for example), and the shapes of the units are highly simplified – squares, rectangles, right angles. Moreover, none of the eight artists is concerned with the spatial illusionism, as seen in the work of some practitioners of the shaped canvas…
…Doug Ohlson’s paintings are a dialogue between constructed and painted geometric elements. In his work over the past year and a half he has refined and solidified his earlier conceptions. In particular, he has closed the spaces between vertical units, which, as he explains, became necessary as more colors were added. Now, although the divisions are still apparent, the form-void interplay caused by the interstices has been eliminated, and the arrangement of painted squares on the panels has become more regular, less random in appearance. Ohlson, who has consistently maintained a geometric orientation in his work, experimented, in his earliest paintings shown in New York (1964) with spare arrangements of squares and rectangles on a field that recalled the paintings of Burgoyne Diller. He later began experimenting with dividing the canvas into units. Continuing this spirit of investigation, he designed, for his 1969 one-man exhibition, an eight-sided construction, on each surface of which was hung one of the multiple unit paintings.
The preparations for Ohlson’s paintings are two-fold – the layout of the squares and the number of panels is established by rough pencil sketches followed by drawings on graph paper. Quite separately, color relationships are determined by small oil studies, freely painted in an almost Abstract Expressionist manner; some of these have also been executed as large scale studies. Like some other painters working with color relationships, Ohlson’s approach is intuitive, not theoretical; he has never formally studied color theory. If Ohlson’s work were compared with that of any formalist color painter, it would be Ad Reinhardt, not Josef Albers, who would come to mind; as in Reinhardt’s early ‘50s paintings, in which geometric elements in cool colors vibrate against a field. Like Reinhardt’s paintings, Ohlson’s work often appears brooding or, as Ohlson himself said, 'Northern' on feeling."
Robert M. Murdock, Curator
Excerpts from, Modular Painting (Buffalo, NY: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1970)
© The Buffalo Fine Art Academy, courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery
* Robert Huot, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Paul Mogensen, David Novros, Doug Ohlson, Robert Ryman, Kendall Shaw