James Siena’s newest work, completed in 2006 and 2007, includes approximately 20 enamel paintings on aluminum or copper and 60 works on paper created with mixed media, including ink, graphite, gouache, color pencil, and Conté crayon on paper or board. This exhibition includes Siena’s signature abstract paintings but also debuts a new working method, as evidenced by the drawings on view. Known for densely patterned paintings, gouaches and drawings generated by the artist’s adherence to algorithmic systems, Siena has, in recent years, begun to vary the rigidity of those systems and the rigidity with which those systems are implemented. The result has been works which appear more chaotic and most recently, and surprisingly, a series of drawings where the twisting lines and forms transform into tortured faces of old men and women.
James Siena first experimented with images of the human figure in 1994. In these early works, he abstracted and flattened the body into one continuous line. Its compression into a single plane resulted in what reminds us of immense line drawings created in Ancient Mesoamerica. Thirteen years later, the figure reemerges in Siena’s work, this time in the form of abstract personages and “little old men” drawings. The Personages, which are similar to the earlier line contours, provide a bridge between the algorithmic and purely figurative works. Siena’s recurring motifs—the recursive comb, the non-slice and the like—and his experimental ways of working, continue to emerge and evolve through the familiar and not so familiar work exhibited in this show.
A catalogue with writings by artist Mark Greenwold and Mark Strand, a recipient of numerous literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (1998) and an American Poet Laureate (1990-91), and contributions by poet and curator Geoffrey Young and the artist himself will be available at the exhibition.
Mark Strand remarks about the new work that Siena “establishes a pictorial identity through which the viewer is able to trace, in a literal sense, the ways in which the paintings become themselves. Each stroke, each extended line or figure, is not simply a gesture in space, but an element in the temporal evolution of the work…Their methodically agitated surfaces are anything but uniform. Each has its own specification, each its own character.”
James Siena (b. 1957, California) received his BFA from Cornell University, New York in 1979. Siena’s work has been featured in over 110 solo and group exhibitions, including the 2004 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial. Over the years, Siena has received multiple honors and awards, including the Award in Art from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (2000); the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Competition Award (1999); and The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting (1994). Siena lectures and teaches at numerous institutions throughout the United States, including the Cleveland Institute of Art, Ohio (2004); Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (2006); San Francisco Art Institute (2003); School of Visual Arts, New York (2003–present); Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York (2000); Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (1999, 2002); and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (2006). James Siena also completed an artist-in-residency program at Yaddo in 2004, and he was recently elected to their Board of Directors.
James Siena’s work can be found in numerous public collections, including the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, Missouri; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Museum of Fine Art, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philip Morris Collection, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.
James Siena lives and works in New York City and Western Massachusetts.