Rebirth stands eight feet tall. Its color fields of burnt umber and raw sienna surround you in darkness. The yellow and red at the center seem to burn you, while a white-hot splash serves as an all-seeing eye, staring you down.
The artist who painted Rebirth knows about burning and darkness. Anton Weiss witnessed the bombing of Europe during WWII. After the war, he spent nearly four years of his childhood in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia. Before his internment, Weiss promised himself and his parents that he would become an artist. He would spend his life creating rather than destroying.
The paintings and metal sculptures in his current show, "Ancient Passage," at Art Forms tell us about Weiss' journey to his creative center after experiencing years of brutality.
Weiss settled in New York in 1959 to study with the abstract-expressionist master Hans Hofmann. With Hofmann's guidance, Weiss learned how to splash paint and juxtapose colors and textures in ways that expressed his feelings and allowed him to deal with some of his grief. The catharsis that Weiss experienced as a creator of abstract art gave him the desire and courage to live as an artist.
Weiss' paintings combine color fields, the scraping, dripping, and scumbling of action painters such as Hofmann and Jackson Pollock, and the expressive glyphs and corrosive rawness of the art informel of TÖpies and Burri. Weiss' metalworks are as striking and spontaneous as his paintings. He rubs acrylic across the surfaces of steel, aluminum, and copper to produce countless subtleties of color and shape.
To create Sanctum, for example, one of the most powerful works in the show, Weiss cut pieces of copper, steel, and aluminum and welded them into patterns similar to the organic designs in the shale he excavates from streambeds in Middle Tennessee. By cutting these patterns into hard metal and juxtaposing the unvarnished gray of steel with luminously stained copper and aluminum, Weiss sets up polarities of texture and tone. The metals are etched with expressive cursive marks and stained with multiple layers of acrylic, creating shapes that evoke a number of associations. At Sanctum's center, two jagged rectangular sheets of copper (burnished almost to radiance) are laced together with brass. The copper's luminosity, brass clasps, and calligraphic icons bring to mind tightly secured ancient temple doors through which only the most determined will find their way into the sacred space of the poet/philosopher/artist.
Dystopia VI suggests a journey to one's inner landscape. The aluminum, steel, and corroded copper are stained with umber and sienna. Across the face of the darkened metals are complex inscriptions. The artist's etchings into the corroded copper augment the already compelling beauty of chemical disintegration and produce an effect of ancient magic symbols and talismans. Like early shamans, Weiss appears to be exploring artistic netherworlds, seeking his own power.
The acrylic painting Rebirth II gives the viewer a further glimpse into the artist's mind and heart. Saturated red rectangles overlie a subtly shadowed background. These rectangles are irregular, semipermeable, and soft-edged. They float, brush against one another, and are sometimes loosely grouped. The atmospheric background is marked with expressive lines that detour and suddenly twist. This painter's shifting geometric shapes and expressive calligraphy show a capacity for changing feelings and directions.
For Line Series/Two Squares, Weiss transformed a large sheet of aluminum into a universe of soldered land masses with an energy grid that reaches toward the curvature of another world just beyond view. The "islands" rest in a sea that is faintly etched with a hieroglyphic script. The aerial perspective of this piece, its allusion to other worlds, and its traces of intentionality invite the viewer to contemplate humankind's place in the universe.
"Ancient Passage" at Art Forms (2016 Restington Lane, 292-5559) through July 31st.