Thaddaeus Ropac opens "Jonathan Lasker: Painting and Drawing"

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Thaddaeus Ropac opens "Jonathan Lasker: Painting and Drawing"
Jonathan Lasker, Untitled, 2023. Graphite and colored pencil on paper. Image 57,2 x 76,5 cm (22,52 x 30,12 in) Frame 65,3 x 84,7 x 3,5 cm (25,71 x 33,35 x 1,38 in) Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, London · Paris · Salzburg · Seoul. Photos: Ulrich Ghezzi © Jonathan Lasker.

PARIS.- This exhibition of works by Jonathan Lasker at Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Marais presents a dialogue between a group of his pencil and ink drawings spanning over a decade, and the first body of paintings to emerge from his newly established studio in Munich. This significant change from the energy and noise of New York City opened up an atmosphere of experimentation for the artist, which is discernible in the new paintings. His rarely exhibited works on paper, meanwhile, with their material lightness and crisp lines, harness the immediacy and suppleness of drawing to reveal another side of the American artist’s practice. The exhibition will run concurrently with a retrospective of Lasker’s paintings at the Museum of Recent Art (MARe) in Bucharest, on view until 28 April 2024.

The artist’s language is based on a distinctive mark-making process. Among the motifs that characterise his oil paintings are hovering, cloud-like fields of scribbles, structural grids, and graphic lines juxtaposed with colourful, relief-like impasto forms created through the intensely physical act of ploughing a thick layer of paint across the canvas. These elements constitute the vocabulary of the artist’s imaginary visual landscape, which he transposes onto the picture plane like the interlocking pieces of a puzzle. Bringing together his paintings with his drawings, the exhibition testifies to how Lasker’s distinctive formal vocabulary is inflected across different mediums, opening up new angles from which to see his work.

For both his paintings and his drawings, Lasker’s creative process commences with sketches, in which he captures rudimentary shapes in their intuitive, raw form on paper. ‘I do a lot of sketching in my spiral-bound sketchbooks, and that is usually where the works start,’ he explains. These initial outlines, often realised freehand in a stream of consciousness, serve as the foundation for his thought-out compositions. ‘The making of a picture, to me, is not necessarily improvisational. The origins of what it’s going to be get imagined and improvised, but the act of making the paintings tends to be more strategic. They are preconceived and no mistakes are allowed.’ The paintings and drawings on view in the exhibition manifest this synthesis of spontaneity and intentionality.

Lasker’s works convey a sense of figurative presence while foiling the viewer’s attempts at a direct narrative interpretation. At first sight, the backgrounds seem bound up within the surfaces of the works, but on closer inspection the compositions feature indications of linear perspective and even horizon lines, hinting at conceptions of real-world volumes in an invitation to the viewer to interrogate the way they distinguish sense and space in a work of art. ‘Even though my works are abstract, I still consider them to be pictures, and they inspire recognition,’ the artist explains. Rejecting the idea of a passive artwork-viewer relationship, the often colourful, diagrammatic compositions oscillate between inducing intuition and analysis, encouraging viewers to find their own associative sense of meaning and narrative within the enigma where these disparate approaches to interpretation meet. As Lasker explains, ‘I always think of the viewer as completing the picture.’

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1948, Jonathan Lasker currently lives and works between New York and Munich. He initially pursued a career as a musician before studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Santa Clarita.

He began developing his highly self-reflexive pictorial language in the 1970s as a student at CalArts, where prevailing conceptual tendencies declared painting dead. The mentorship of Susan Rothenberg and Richard Artschwager encouraged Lasker to forge his own path and mount a challenge to the status quo. He created a unique way of painting based on the vocabulary devised by the minimalist painters that preceded him. Curtailing himself to basic marks and lines, Lasker established his figure-ground relationship in this period ‘In a way, it was good for me,’ he remembers, ‘because it forced me to shape my reasons for making paintings. It also forced me to make paintings that had reasons for being paintings.’ As art critic Richard Kalina describes, ‘Each image [in the picture] becomes a thing itself, an element to be examined, experienced and categorised; a component of the larger grammatical structure that Lasker has built.’

Lasker’s early solo exhibitions include a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, in 1992 and a retrospective that travelled to the Kunsthalle Bielefeld; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Kunstverein St. Gallen, between 1997 and 1998. These were followed by exhibitions at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham; Forum for Contemporary Art, St. Louis; and The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto. A major retrospective of Lasker’s work was held in 2003 at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. In 2015, the exhibition Jonathan Lasker: Paintings 2001–2014 was shown at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Saint-Étienne. An exhibition spanning five decades of the artist’s paintings was organised at the Museum of Recent Art (MARe), Bucharest, in 2024.

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