by Genie Davis

Curated by Max Presneill, “Grafforists,” at the Torrance Art Museum through August 13th is a stunningly large show: both in terms of intent, and in terms of the size of the artwork presented.

Artists in the exhibition include Jonni Cheatwood, Tomory Dodge, Craig Drennen, Scott Everingham, Ann Glazer, Sebastian Helling, Alexander Kroll, John Mills, Oscar Murillo, Pepa Prieto, Christian Rosa, Kimberly Rowe, David Spanbock, Russell Tyler, Mary Weatherford and Liat Yossifor.

The large scale works here create literal walls of color, marks on a white surface that sing with the passion of existence. Like early humans, we – and the artists in this exhibition – are searching for the meaning of life, death, personal cognition, and immortality through the marks we make in the world.

Presneill asserts that with the emergence of abstraction as an art form, the marks themselves take on the importance of the individual and reveal themselves as a “sign of presence, an artifact of the performative moments of the individual…captured in the stream of time.” In this show – and in the making of all art, the artists have created significant marks that represent their own being, their own art, their intimate emotional and visual movements.

Assistant curator Benjamin Tippin explains that “painting as performative act” is the true substance of this exhibition. “What Max Presneill likes most about painting, more than making something pretty or as an art object, is the way in which painting acts as archaeological marker. With this show he wanted to find contemporary work that really left a mark, not necessarily marks that coalesced into a plane.”

Presneill created a show in which each of the featured artists create marks which “do not lose themselves or subsume themselves into the picture,” according to Tippin.

Each of the marks made are entirely unique in this exhibition. In Oscar Murillo’s “Pizza,” the artist conditions the canvas so that the marks made are not just on the surface, but in the material itself. And unlike other works in the show, Murillo uses the actual word, “pizza,” in re as a counter point to an intricate collection of less definable lines. In Liat Yossifor’s “Dust Dance,” this oil on linen work is heavily scored, so that the lines are completely created on the surface of not just the canvas, but the paint. Mary Weatherford’s work has a technological apparatus, a streak of neon, built in to the canvas. In short, as Tippin puts it, each piece “speaks to a different aesthetic quality.”

“A lot of times when we set up shows, we think of who and what we can really work with, and then we let the pieces and their relationships in space emerge as part of the process,” Tippin says. “Max is a big fan of large paintings. Life size or larger paintings contain and embody the performance of painting.”

In this exhibition, the vast size and scope of the paintings have definitely created both an artistic process and an emotional, visceral response for the viewer.

David Spanbock’s rainbow hued, acrylic on linen “The Politics of Transformation,” is representative of much of the artist’s work. Spanbock says all of his work is about “the politics of human physics.” He works with his insight that a city is a collection of events and fitures that create a larger structure, and the artist’s background, growing up on the east coast and beginning his artistic career on the west seems to coalesce in the marks he creates which capture alternating patterns of light and shadow.

John Mills’ work includes the essence of tribal art and post-minimalism, in an often symbolic mix. His “Creation Dome” included here combines oil and graphite on canvas. “What I like to work on is visual signs, what makes an image in terms of lines, shape, and form,” Mills says. And echoing curator Presneill’s vision for the exhibition, notes that “the image ends up being a stand in for you, a way to contemplate your existence.”

Kimberly Rowe has described her work as having rhythm and “musicality.” Her piece here, “Be in the Ecstatic Present (Where all the Mystical Stuff is)” mixes oil, acrylic, ink, and flashe on canvas. Her lines do evoke not just musical notes but also the way sounds appear on a music studio mixing boards. The colors sing out. She says her work is about perception. “The result is an embodiment of one of my tenets of life: to increase happiness and decrease unhappiness,” Rowe says.

Open thru August 13