Press Release: William Conger – “Cross-Cross Series” at Printworks Gallery with essay by Kevin Nance



Cross-Cross Series
William Conger
Printworks Gallery
311 West Superior St., Ste. 105
Chicago, IL 60654
October 18, 2013 – November 30, 2013
Opening: Friday, October 18th, 2013

Chicago, IL — The following essay was written by Kevin Nance (reprinted here with his permission)

After filing a review of an exhibit of William Conger paintings for an art magazine a few years back, I received a slightly irritated response from my editor. How was it, she demanded to know, that I had introduced Conger as an “abstract” painter, then spent much of my review discussing his imagery? She had me there, although fortunately I was able to lay the lion’s share of the blame on the artist. What a spot he’d put me in

In fact, Conger’s work occupies a murky middle ground between abstraction and representation. Another way to put it is that it’s mostly abstract—the typical piece is a colorful swirl of basic shapes overlapping and bouncing off each other—but, as the artist himself told me recently in another context, “Everything always looks like something else.” It’s more than reasonable to think of Conger’s art in relation to landscapes, cityscapes and cartography; his pieces often give me that Olympian, slightly vertiginous sensation of looking down from a skyscraper or a jet at terraced fields, city grids, roundabouts, freeways.

The same is true of Conger’s beautiful new series of small-scale works on paper at Printworks Gallery. Previewing the show recently, I was struck once again by the mysteriously powerful way he manages to evoke the physical world without ever actually depicting it. His simple spheres suggest suns, moons, street signs, traffic lights; his ovals conjure cameos, mirrors, portholes; his lines, straight or curved, define planes in much the same way that streets define city blocks, that fences and ditches define fields in the heartland. It’s interesting to note that the shapes he chooses to leave whole, rather than to overlay or otherwise disrupt, are the most evocative; they tend to anchor their respective compositions, giving them a focus around which the other elements orbit, rather like—to use an image—a solar system.

These are, of course, subjective responses to the work, specific and personal to my exasperatingly concrete mind, though hardly unique. It’s possible, and equally valid, to relate to Conger’s pieces as purely abstract visual networks that exist outside any pictorial context. In that case, they retain their power to produce a complex emotional response—which is likely to include a sense of wonder, even awe, at how such a seemingly cacophonous body of work can produce such a feeling of serenity. Even when blocks of distinctly different colors sit next to each other, they tend to harmonize rather than clash; so too angles and curves, boxes and circles. There are no collisions here, only complementarity, balance, equilibrium, calm.

And if these small pieces lack the grandeur of his large paintings, they compensate with an almost microscopic intricacy. Their miniature quality encourages us to look harder and closer than we do at the big pieces. And they reward this added scrutiny with the tiny, precise yet fluid marks he’s left inside each image or, if you prefer, each color block or primal archetype—palpable signs of William Conger’s restless intelligence, flowing through his hand.

Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance arts writer and critic.
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William Conger website

Printworks Gallery website