For his exhibition at Artpace, The Teeth of the Wind and the Sea, Vormstein has filled the walls of the Hudson (Show)Room with paintings, drawings, and collages-primarily on gessoed newspaper-featuring fragments of images from myriad sources. Additionally he has created a discrete catacomb or side chapel filled with relic-like plaster constructions and paintings that refer to the ephemeral nature of existence. It is the largest piece the artist has made in his career, dramatically shifting the scale from more intimate portrait-like works to a painting that completely encompasses its environment and submerges its viewers into the installation.
Upon entering the exhibition space, the viewer is presented with an expansive 360° wall painting reminiscent of a fresco or mural on various newspapers joined together with wood glue. Without an apparent beginning or end, one can move through the installation from any point in the room. Large colored and gessoed masses containing paintings and drawings of female figures-drawn from the works of Egon Schiele and Francis Picabia-as well as flora and fauna culled from various art historical sources anchor each of the walls, providing for a visual rhythm of whites, pinks, oranges, blues, and greens. Relating to the tradition of still life or memento mori, these organic elements and materials are meant to express the transitory nature of all living things.
Working counter-clockwise from the entrance, the right part of the wall contains overlapping broadsheets of various colors with a white cloud of gesso that rises above eye level. Near the base of the wall lies a fragment of a female figure drawn in graphite with eyes closed and hand resting on forehead. Above and to the left of this figure is a small bowl of fruit lightly painted in warm yellows and cool greens. Directly above the fruit is a serpentine swirl of grey paint and abstracted symbols that resemble cluster of grapes and the profile of a skateboard; near the base of this section is a downturned sunflower and muddled red poppies. This section and many others contain ripped pieces of previous works that the artist claims were failures, but has resurrected through their piecemeal incorporation in this installation.
The center of the right wall section is dominated by a radiant block of orange color with a thin circle approximately 10 feet in diameter, again with recycled fragments of previous works bookending the centerpiece. On the left of the sun-like section another cloudy wash of gesso fills the space, this time with a delicate line drawing of a garden of flowers. High above are large blue swirls that appear to shower rain in the form of blue paint down on the floral arrangement.
Continuing to the left on the back wall, another wash of gesso-a center section nearly 10 feet square-holds grey footprints that diverge to the top and bottom of the work, evidence of the artist’s process of working these large sections of newspaper on the floor of his studio. On the right, abstract geometric designs come in and out of focus; on the left, a Schiele-esque painted figure hovers above eye level.
Featured on the adjacent wall to the left are Vormstein’s signature cubic forms rising from floor to ceiling along with translucent square forms of grey, blue, green, tangerine, and rose. Anchoring the center of this wall are large lavender biomorphic forms and a black cat that appear to cast shadows across the quilted newspaper base. Throughout this section are fragments of still lifes, portraits, and birds. Completing the panorama, the fourth wall features a colorful painting of sunflowers resting in what appears to be a window into a brighter world with a ghost-like figure floating above it and blue footprints near its base.
Vormstein’s selection of the words teeth, wind, and sea in his title are key because they help reinforce the idea of entropy and time that permeates much of this exhibition. These natural elements break down surfaces, creating new forms from old ones. Indeed in viewing this exhibition, viewers cannot help but to lose themselves “in the landscape of the material and story.”
-Alexander Freeman, Education Curator