At first glance, Angela Dwyer’s work might seem like work of great ferocity, or at least intensity; whether in the large text pieces in which scrawled (but still readable) lines are written in cursive over each other, with “mistakes” crossed out and other seeming damage to the text, the first idea you might get from the text is that the message the text conveys is one of both instability and great importance for the artist and possibly the viewer. In Dwyer’s abstract paintings, this tension is found as easily but in different ways; Bluebird (over my shoulder), for example, recalls Gerhard Richter’s abstracts but seem narrowed and focused, as if every single gesture on the blocky fields of color was either an intense experience itself or the result of one.
Closer inspection, though, reveals how careful Dwyer’s work is in choosing control as a subject rather than simply making it a side issue to whatever else might seem more directly present in the work. Like the artist Louisa Chase, who I also wrote about, Dwyer’s seeming chaos is actually a highly controlled chaos. In Gebet, for example, a closer look reveals faint text “beneath” the surface text, and the viewer can notice that Dwyer is writing in both German(?) and English; the English floats at the bottom of the piece almost like a caption, and unless you’re multilingual like Dwyer not all of the meaning might be available to you, but whats’ clear is that the text in the work is not a pronouncement but a dialogue. One readable fragment from the English reads “She gives with such supple confusion,” and from that line we can glean two important things: first, that this is “she” not an “I” at the center of the text, and second that the line doesn’t scan as expository prose but more like poetry where the “confusion” of words in different languages reflects Dwyer’s description of what “she” is doing, has done, and wants to do. With the lack of an entirely clean blank white in the work and the irregular edges of the paper, the longer you look at the work, the more it looks like a palimpsest, that the text hasn’t been laid down in one passionate session but rather possibly built up through (likely fictional) indecision over a period of months or years. Dwyer’s text work actually models a long time frame in which a conversation takes place, and it’s this tension between seeming spontaneity and a great duration of thought an dialogue that makes the work so compelling beyond the instant visual appeal; in the same image, with a minimum of acts, we are generously offered both “fast” and “slow,” both a sense of pressure and a sense of calm––Gebet, after all, is German for “prayer.” (The same is true with related works, like Maelstrom, that echo the style of the text work but employ curved lines to the same effect as the text.)
The same duality carries over to Dwyer’s abstract paintings. In Bluebird, what would be almost a blue monochrome is overrun both by white horizontal lines that could either be additions or could indicate a kind of erasure or absence of paint, while the vaguely rectangular insertions of a vibrant red at first seem impulsive, a disruption of the blue, but as with the text work we get both fast (the overlay, sometimes fragmentary, of the red) and the cool blue, whose range in tint reveals itself not as an arbitrary field but a succession of horizontal stripes that are, at some points, more successful at asserting their link to hard-edge geometrical painting than at other points. Again, we’re offered dialogue, but this time it’s both a dialogue between the red that seems to float in front of the picture plane and a dialogue Dwyer has left us evidence of, the decision focused on a single idea––a horizontal blue line––but divergent into many approaches.
Likewise, Look Back in the Land You are Leaving, seems at first like an approximation of hard-edge abstraction in a familiar way––a grid––is disrupted in two ways, creating another dialogue. First, the edges of the individual squares are sometimes crooked and a bit ragged, and more importantly, the painting is a collision of two grids shoved up against each other that share the same color palette but not the same size or organization of grid, calling into question the “perfect” grid that a simpler grid painting often presumes––perfect squares aligned perfectly that could go on forever. The dialogue between the grids recalls Paul Klee’s slippage of grid structure in his abstracts and has the same effect––not one of an arbitrary shift but of play with expectation and a questioning, as I noted, of the meaning of the abstract grid in 20th and 21st century painting. Together with the playful colors, the intensity of the hues and the abrupt shift in grid structure exist in balance with playfulness and the “human” mark of imperfect squares, offering, as with all her work, a generous gift of opposition and harmony that, rather than being noisy and simplistic, is sophisticated and careful, with great attention paid to perception that signals Dwyer’s work as uniformly excellent both at first glance and after more time spent with her warm and thoughtful work.