Review: Emi Winter
Leslie Sutcliffe 5/27/2004
Abstract art made after 1960, where geometry is emphasized
decoration, illusion and expressive technique are avoided.
Once again compact Gallery has proven the axioms, “bigger
is not better” and “less is more.” It is
clear from the diversity of their exhibitions so far, that
the compact partners refuse to be pigeonholed. What is emerging
is not a stylistic direction for the gallery but a commitment
to presenting art in a way that honors the work and, by extension,
the artists. The partners seem confident that, no matter how
difficult or cutting edge, good art will engage the viewer
if presented properly.
The current show is a spare and thoughtful installation of
only three paintings and six prints by Los Angeles artist
Emi Winter. Two of the three paintings are large shaped canvases
that activate this small gallery’s space in a remarkably
powerful way. Winter’s method is meticulous. The non-objective
prints and paintings would seem austere if not for their vibrant
color and almost mind-bending spatial illusions.
Emi Winter was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and spent her childhood
there. Her suite of prints is titled Seis Aves, Spanish for
“six birds.” Each of the six prints is given the
name of one of the many birds found in Mexico and has the
coloration of tropical birds. This exotic color palette is
one of the things that distinguishes Winter’s work from
the minimalist art of thirty and forty years ago, although
Minimalism is certainly part of her artistic heritage.
In 2001 she was an artist in residence at the Chinati Foundation
in Marfa, Texas. Chinati was founded by Donald Judd in 1979
to “preserve and present permanent large scale installations”
by Judd, Dan Flavin and others whose work was stylistically
austere and required vast exhibition space. Now Chinati includes
education programs and artists’ residencies. Donald
Judd was probably the dean of Minimalism despite the fact
that he strenuously rejected the term when applied to his
During her residency Winter worked with master printer Robert
Arber. Together they made prints by seamlessly blending multiple
colors of ink on a plate with a large roller. Printmakers
call this method a “rainbow roll” but calling
Arber’s technique a rainbow roll is akin to calling
a Bugatti a car. There are no incised areas in the plate so
these might technically be considered monotypes. The printer,
though, was able to create consistent editions. Winter continued
to work with Arber in Marfa where he printed and published
Seis Aves in 2003 as part of an ongoing series with various
artists, called the “30 X 30 cm Project.”
After her collaboration with Robert Arber, Winter began to
use a variant of this printmaking technique in her paintings.
She masks off areas of the painting and then rolls oil paint
onto the unmasked areas using brayers (small rollers). She
purposely uses more oil paint on the roller in places to create
a varied surface.
Printmakers who have inadvertently used too much ink on their
brayer will recognize the texture. Her careful blending of
color creates the illusion of rounded bars hovering just in
front of the canvas like the chiaroscuro illusions of the
Winter is not making large scale prints, but instead is substituting
the brayer for her paintbrush. In removing the expressive
gesture of the artist’s hand, she is a minimalist heir
apparent. Yet her motivations are quite apart from those of
The artist explained to me that her upbringing in Oaxaca was
very provincial. She was not exposed to abstract art. She
was unaware of the modernist movements in Mexico City. She
came to her style of abstraction through her meticulous nature
and a love of labor that requires careful and painstaking
concentration. She learned about Minimalism only later. Her
work does not embrace an industrial aesthetic but rather an
almost pre-industrial craft aesthetic. Her motivation seems
less theoretical than tactile.
Lush color and technical mastery are evident in all of Emi
Winter’s work. The small prints and large shaped paintings
also have an intimacy that rewards more careful viewing. In
the prints this is due, I think, to the small scale and the
perfection of the surfaces. In the large paintings, it is
the carefully controlled texture left by the brayer. For me,
the mid-sized painting lacks this intimacy.
This is the first time the artist has shown her shaped paintings.
She spent a year making drawings before having the canvases
fabricated. Her care is well rewarded and so are we.