Strokes and Stencils: Maggie Michael at G Fine Art

Gestural abstraction perseveres, and in Washington, D.C. few artists have been as attuned to its provisional potential as Maggie Michael (NAP #94). With There is No Rising or Setting Sun, Michael’s fourth solo show at G Fine Art, the artist has largely left the drips and splatters behind in favor of spray paint and stencils in provisional works on paper, canvas and mylar. And she’s expanded her mark making across the picture plane — gone are the central points that anchored many of her previous paintings. While immediately next door Conner Contemporary asks rhetorically Is Realism Relevant? Michael’s thoughtful consideration of abstraction formulates compelling answers of her own.

Danube Series: There is No Rising or Setting Sun (Day), 2011, ink and spray paint on paper, 22″ x 30″ Image Courtesy of G Fine Art

Danube Series: The tears of the world are a constant flow quality…The same is true of the laugh. (Misquoting Waiting for Godot), 2011, ink and spray paint on paper, 22″ x 30″ Image courtesy of G Fine Art

Referencing Samuel Beckett and El Lissitzky in the titles of her works on paper, Michael declares an affinity for modernism and the hard-edged geometric forms that characterized the work ofSuprematists like Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich. But Michael deploys her stenciled shapes as feints — they’re meant to struggle against erasures and the gestural softness of her marks. And her stenciledchains and player piano rolls, just as soft in their pursuit of form, seem to serve as figurative allusions to the industrial context of Lissitzki’s modernism.

Danube Series: A Circle and its Centre (Beckett, Watt, p. 104), 2011, ink and spray paint on paper, 30″ x 22″ Image Courtesy of G Fine Art

If Michael’s shapes are soft, then her hard-edged transects are strong, and in About 2 Circles (Ghost of Lissitzky) they become physical. Closely related to Michael’s 2010 installations at George Mason University, the works consist of spray-painted paper and mylar, affixed and transected by black painters tape. They are indeed ghostly imprints of Lissitzki or Malevich, but they’re also provisionally current.

About 2 Circles (Ghosts of Lissitzky), 2011, spray paint and tape on paper and mylar. Image Courtesy of the artist and G Fine Art

Studio Document, Summer 2011, Washington, D.C., also including taped works on the wall from Danube Series: There is no Rising or Setting Sun, Cetate, Romania


Maggie Michael lives and works in Washington, DC. Michael holds an MFA from American University, an MA from San Francisco State University and a BFA from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She has completed an Artist Research Fellowship with the Smithsonian Institution and an Artist Residency at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, both in Washington, DC.  Michael was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, The Trawick Prize, and a Young Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an organization supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Michael’s work has been exhibited in international galleries and nonprofit, private and public collections including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the University of Maryland, George Mason University, the US Art and Embassies Program, and the Federal Reserve Board. 

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