Skip Navigation or Skip to Content

Tracing the Origins of Jacqueline Humphries’s Luminous Paintings

When painting was knocked off its pedestal in the 1980s, says Jacqueline Humphries, it only increased her attraction to it. As a young artist coming of age in New York, where she attended Parsons School of Design and later went through the Whitney Independent Study Program, the declining status of her chosen medium offered a unique opportunity for her to think differently about her approach. “It was a very fertile period of taking in things that weren’t painting as source for thinking about painting,” she says. “From critical theory and feminist theory to film and video. It really allowed me to cast a wider net culturally in terms of what I was really interested in.”

Undeterred by painting’s unpopularity during her formative years, Humphries cites how resilient the art form has been throughout its history. “Painting over the centuries has been very adaptive,” she says. “And I think there’s no reason why it couldn’t adapt to any situation, even being marginalized.”

Humphries, whose career has now spanned more than three decades, long ago cemented her reputation as an innovator in abstract painting. “She took the ‘extreme doubt’ surrounding painting and internalized it, making ambivalence a core characteristic of her work,” writes Amanda Donnan, assistant curator of contemporary art at CMOA, in the catalogue for Humphries’s current exhibition in the Forum Gallery. That ambivalence, and a willingness to embrace influences from a variety of sources, is reflected in this new series of works—which features her signature “silver” paintings as well as several large-scale black-light pieces.

The former, which take the form of “densely layered gestural abstractions created using a metallic oil paint mixed from aluminum powder alongside a chalky black,” Donnan writes, also feature “bright pops of red, purple, acidic green, and fluorescent pink peeking through.” The latter, however, represent a desire to experiment with the definition of what abstraction can achieve.

J-Humphries-16_1600x600px
A view of Jacqueline Humphries’s black-light paintings in the Coatroom Gallery. Photograph: Bryan Conley for Carnegie Museum of Art.

“The black-light paintings came about because I’ve always wanted to make high art with this low form, and to try to make serious painting with these colors,” Humphries says. “And because they are often also associated with these out-of-favor genres like psychedelia and hippie culture.”

When asked about her approach and whether a painting is ever actually finished or not, Humphries not only acknowledges the iterative nature of her process, but the importance of the public’s role in it.

“I like to make something then break it and then put it back together and break it again,” she says. “I don’t think that the artist ever really does finish the painting. Because, really, it’s important that the spectator—the viewer, the beholder—should feel like they finished the painting.”

Jacqueline Humphries is the 75th installment in CMOA’s Forum series and will be on view through October 5, 2015. This exhibition is organized by Amanda Donnan, assistant curator of contemporary art at Carnegie Museum of Art. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation, Jill and Peter Kraus, Christopher M. Bass, Wendy Fisher, Candy and Micheal Barasch, The Benjamin M. Rosen Family Foundation, the Ruth Levine Memorial Fund, and Greene Naftali, New York.