Blessing: Chuck Webster At Betty Cuningham Gallery

Originally published by Out of Order Magazine



Before walking into Chuck Webster’s show at Betty Cuningham Gallery, I was a little way down the street, wandering around a dimly lit gallery space, taking in the photographs, sculptural installation, and Deep House vibrations of Christina De Middel’s exhibition Afronauts, which was set to open the following day (I’d stumbled upon a teaser preview). It all felt very cool — was it a photography show, installation space, or Berlinesque music venue? All three I presume. And presume one must these days, as the world of art, installation and music continues to spiral into the ultra-hip tornado that has engulfed the so-called “contemporary scene.”

When I found myself at Cuningham’s standing in front of one of Webster’s large paintings on panel, taking in the those elemental shapes, outlined in black and filled with matte tones, art seemed a little less complicated, a little less cool. And what a relief that was.

Webster’s current show, Blessing, features 12 new works by the painter, who, at 43, has enjoyed an impressive roster of solo shows between New York and LA. The works on view range from cartoon-like abstractions to highly personal exclamations. Paul Klee and Henri Matisse are referenced often in his work, and perhaps as a result, his paintings (emphasis on the word paintings) could be considered passé compared to the recent multimedia-art frenzy. This is exactly what I found enjoyable about the show; it was—probably unintentionally—the exact opposite of ultra-hip.

While most of the works are imposing in scale and sometimes even sinister (Was To Be A Man, 2013,Sleeping Giants, 2013), they still felt inviting—playful even. And the small works (beginning at 12”x12”) rivaled their company of giants (as big as 84”x120”), proving that scale is more about how one uses space than the amount of space one uses.

Blessing, 2013, is the most visually dense of the group, despite its black and white color palette and relatively diminutive size. The word blessing is written backwards, as if to pull the viewer into the interior of a space, looking out at the word written on glass. Perhaps this is Webster’s intention, to draw us in, to invite us into his world rather than hold its vastness at bay. He’s trying to conjure another kind of cool, one that doesn’t require intimidation or complication.

On my way out, I stopped at the desk to ask about one of the works (Good Luck Sailor, 2013) hung behind the desk. It was my favorite, I remarked to the woman behind the desk. She smiled and agreed, saying that while it was the last one he made in the series, it reminded her of his older works. We discussed our mutual fondness for it and then I departed. Before leaving she introduced herself. “I’m Betty,” she said.

I left fulfilled. Maybe the ultra-cool isn’t for me. Not yet at least.

Blessing is on exhibit at Betty Cuningham Gallery, 541 West 25th Street, September 5th – October 10th.