Contributed by Jason Andrew / Amy Lincoln’s soaring trajectory has locked in the natural world, the phenomena within it, and the epic world of myth. Ten new paintings now on view at Sperone Westwater embrace these pervasive elements while exploring a bold new theatrical space.
I first met Lincoln well over a decade ago and have curated several shows that included her work. As a recent grad of Tyler School of Art (Stanley Whitney was one of her instructors), she had just returned from short teaching stint in Yokohama, Japan, and was living in a fourth-floor walkup loft above a laundromat at Melrose and Central in Bushwick. A bunch of artists had landed there including Jesse Bercowetz, Ianthe Jackson, Kevin Curran (now married to Lincoln), and Ben Godward. They were part of the genesis of Bushwick’s nascent but growing art scene, and Lincoln was its Henri Rousseau.
She has always had a highly stylized approach to her work. Even back then, we came to appreciate her offset proportions, one-point perspective, and use of sharp chromatic color in her small portraits of friends, still lifes of plants, and well-placed interiors on MDF. Lincoln’s distinctive approach to painting bordered on the primitive, leaving one with a sense of mystery and eccentricity.
As the complexity of her paintings grew, they moved beyond mere observation into the realm of phenomenology and meaning. Her panels expanded to include landscapes teeming with flora and fauna bathed in the sun, the stars, the moon, or a combination of the three. By resolutely skirting human truths and contradictions in terms of imagery, her work paradoxically seemed to embrace them remotely in suggesting themes such as urban isolation and alienation.
“I find myself trying to figure out how realistic things should be versus imaginatively depicted,” Lincoln said in a 2019 interview with Maria Vogel. “I think whatever makes the painting more compelling is what I try to choose. There’s a range within a painting. Some things are more realistic, other things more like symbols.”
Lincoln said that a turning point in her work occurred when she was invited by Norte Maar – of which I am a co-founder and director – to collaborate with a choreographer to create a set-piece for its annual CounterPointe program in 2019. Though Lincoln had busted out of the comfort zone of her easel-size compositions with an 18-foot mural commissioned by Starbucks for its 195 Broadway location in 2018, this was her first opportunity to consider her work in the context of dance and the proscenium stage. The result was a stop-action animation featuring a wavy sea, skies crowded with clouds, a rainstorm, and a setting sun. The experience focused Lincoln on the painted space as a stage.
The new paintings at Sperone, all ambitiously painted in 2021, are implicitly theatrical – extended variations on the painting-as-proscenium. While these new, invented visions seem frozen in the moment and thus at times unsettling, they embrace the unexpected through their highly stylized, even formulaic, design (one thinks of marvelously bewitching Roger Brown and Lee Godie). Each work expands on Lincoln’s unique use of high-keyed colors and sharp contrasting shadows, and her schematic juggling of imagery and dimensionality.
It is as though she has discovered a haunted, baroque light, which she filters through soft, scalloped-edged compositions. In Moon and Waves, clouds gather accordion-like to frame a glowing moon and a wavy sea. In Ursa Major, the same framing device fences in an eerie, mauve-colored starry night and rippling sea. Both paintings have an air of moody nostalgia.
Yellow Stars with Cloud Tunnel also features mauve-colored clouds, but in this painting they pile up like a curtain of pillows while rising tides crest from the orchestra pit. With these elements in place, a cast of electro-radiant stars takes center stage.
Pink Sun, Blue Moon offers a transcendental experience. With the sun on the left and the moon on the right, Lincoln leaves room in between these glowing celestial bodies for contemplation.
Storm Clouds with Lighting harnesses the true power of a single lightning bolt. Here towering cumulonimbus clouds extend high into a sky releasing stylized raindrops that fall in cascading rations over a raging sea. A thunderclap of yellow tears the composition in half, while stars offset in a midnight blue illuminate the calmer heavens in the distance.
Lincoln plays out dimensionality masterfully in Milky Way, turning the threatening zigzag of a lightning bolt from the previous painting into a subtle purple seam that stitches together the night’s sky while stars dance and twinkle like sequins on a Broadway gown.
A sunnier spectrum is explored in a pair of paintings titled Sun with Rainbow Rays (Light) and Sun with Rainbow Rays (Dark). Since rainbows and rainstorms go hand in hand, one can’t help but feel the optimistic warmth emanating from the refracted beams of light. At the same time, these paintings have a darker Gothic hint of elaborate tracery and stained glass.
Lincoln has said that in rendering her paintings she is not in any conscious way trying to capture both the outside and the interior world. Yet, to understand them, we must consider what is verifiable by observation and experience as well as human psychology and pure logic. In this exhibition, she blends these components seamlessly, confirming that she is, as she always has been, stage-ready.
“Amy Lincoln,” Sperone Westwater, 257 Bowery, New York, NY. Through October 30, 2021.