ART REVIEW: Mertes-Frady Paintings Weave Depth into Abstraction at Markel
August 31, 2016 by Charles A. Riley II Art Reviews, Contemporary Abstraction, HAMPTONS,

The elegant circuitry of Gudrun Mertes-Frady’s abstract paintings caught me in its web the moment I walked into the Kathryn Markel Gallery in Bridgehampton.
The delicate, looping curves of the intricate large painting Hour of the Morning spun their magic over a lattice of tall, X-formed verticals that held the architecture of the work firmly but not heavily in place. It seemed useless to try to extricate myself from this Arachne’s skill, and better to give myself up to the contemplation of her palette’s silken harmonies of green, slate blues and greys. To struggle was pointless..
Mertes-Frady weaves ellipses with a thin, clean-edged tape applied with a legerdemain that makes it seem she is drawing with the material. Behind and within the tape, which skates along a crisp edge, the brushy application of layers upon layers of oil paint builds to a surface that has the depth and finish of encaustic.
The rhapsodic effect of Skylark, for example, is a modulated layering of smoky grays, dreamily brushed up, down and in zigzags in counterpoint to the sharp lines of the tape. A flash of gold streaks across a “sky” framed by the open angle of two straight lines, like the sudden cry of the skylark as it flits from tree to tree, caught for a second against the clouds..

Did I mention the metallic pigments? The delay is deliberate, because Mertes-Frady wields the golds and silvers with a subtlety that ought to serve as a paradigm and a lesson for others in the contemporary art world. Overall, although I love painting I recoil at the tacky overuse of metallic paint, having been optically bombarded at art fairs by legions of Marilyn Monroe portraits that glitter in the booths. Mertes-Frady manages to slip the metallic note into her palette as suavely as Igor Stravinsky found a way to introduce the jazz reed players into his symphonic works.
In Skylark, this metallic note introduces a flash of drama as well as the perfect counterweight to the cool, ashen greys, but at no point does it scream “Gold” off-key. Having already yielded to the intelligent linear charms of the paintings, my respect for the artist was enhanced by this chromatic subtlety. When abstract painting produces its light effects, it often does so with a purity that calls attention to what paint itself can achieve, one of Mertes-Frady’s great accomplishments.
There are many comparisons to be drawn between Mertes-Frady and other modern as well as contemporary artists. That pattern of X forms in the middle ground of Hour of the Morning, for instance, called to mind a similar use of the rhythm, in a much heavier black line, by Fernand Leger in his still lifes of the 1920s. The graceful interplay of straight and curved lines made me think as well of Robert Mangold, although there is more information and incident in Mertes- Frady.
Then I thought of the networks of Julie Mehretu, but Mertes-Frady’s work is far less busy. Finally I focused on the division of the space of the canvas in the apportioning of areas using overlapping geometry as mastered by an artist I have followed for some years, Theresa Chong. Along with each of these artists, Mertes-Frady has a brilliant way of balancing the foreground ballet of intersecting curves and straight lines—the nexus at which they join becomes a moment of drama—with lyrical, painterly backgrounds, where the wrist is let loose and the brush picks up speed.
That balance of figure and ground is attained in Nest #7, its looping tape lines echoing across the canvas. As if reaching through an open window, the arcs reveal an interior, three- dimensional painting within the painting, atmospheric and rewarding in its own right. .
I would like to know more about Gudrun Mertes-Frady, but none of the various online sources offers much of a hint about her life or studio practice. She was born in Cologne, Germany, where she studied at the Academy for Art and Design. She moved to the United States in 1968, and has, in addition to painting, used weaving to create her art.
I was not surprised to discover that her work is in the Werner Kramarsky collection. I have long admired Kramarsky’s eye (notably for drawings), as he almost invariably discovers a delicate touch that is firmly grounded intellectually. The way that Mertes-Frady explores the grid, especially, makes her the perfect choice for such a distinguished collection.
Today Mertes-Frady lives and works in Brooklyn. A cryptic artist’s statement on the Markel Gallery website offers a smattering of philosophy: “I work toward the instant the work has its own center, its own logic, physically and intellectually ... Most of all I want my work to be about deceleration, in the spirit of the works by Olafur Eliasson and the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, as a counterpoint to the ever accelerating whirl of our time, in which our lives seem trapped.”
The “aha” moment in this sentence is the reference to Zumthor, whose masterful Brother Klaus Field Chapel in Eifel, Germany, used real smoke and timbers to conjure and amazing experience of depth. The parallel with Mertes-Frady works is clear: both control the arrival of light so precisely—that sparing hand with the metallic paint yet again—as to make it precious.
Approaching an artist who seems distant is sometimes easier via the drawings, and there are some absolutely superb examples of Mertes-Frady’s hand on view at Markel.
Viscous, billowing clouds of white and grey mix languidly on double sheets of Mylar, which trap the light between them and set up a resonance that is every bit as compelling as the luminous effects of the paintings. The water-based paints behave “naturally” on the surface of the Mylar; at first I thought it was vellum because of its lovely opalescence. The paints seem to be still gathering their forms and settling on the surface. That suits the aleatory theme of The Music of Chance, for example, one of the best of the drawings on view..
After many visits to her gallery, I would submit that Kathryn Markel’s marksmanship when it comes to painters is Olympic caliber, and Mertes-Frady is another bullseye. Markel has a pet adjective for this type of highly rewarding technique, the celebration of abstract painting as its own reward, which she likes to call “juicy.”
Returning to the brushy background of Hour of the Morning after spending time with the drawings, I found details within the latticework of the straight lines that were like the patterns on birch bark, revelations of the underpainting that are easy to miss as the eye follows the metallic path of the taped arcs. “Juicy” is just one term of praise for the range of effects this confident and seasoned brush can conjure.

DIE WELT BERLIN-GERMANY, 13. November 2009


Dass abstrakte Kunst nicht langweilen muss, beweisen die ausgefeilten
Gemälde von Gudrun Mertes-Frady. Sie zeigen geometrische Strukturen
und scimmern, je nach Standort des Betrachters, unterschiedlich. Die Künstlerin
hat verschiedene dünne Schichten aufgetragen und metallische Pigmente wie
Aluminium und Graphit verwendet. Das changierende Material verleiht ihrem

......Die Ausstellung DAY FOR NIGHT zeigt die zwei Gesichter ihres Könnens.
Auf der einen Seite die ruhige Zen-Wirkung der abgezirkelten Linien und
geometrische Formen. Sie steht im Kontrast zur Lebenigkeit des Materials auf
der anderen Seite. Die reflektierenden Farben lassen den Blick in den
SMALL MIRROR oder auf das SINGULAR LIGHT zum Blick in die Tiefe

Andrea Hilgenstock


Es wird Zeit, über das Tempo von Bildern nachzudenken. Die schnellen kennt man, das Neueste vom Tage, aus der Hüfte geschossen. Das Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen widmet sich Ende November dem anderen Phänomen der „Slow Paintings“. Neue Wilde, Jonathan Meese oder André Butzer, passen nicht ins Thema. Aber Gudrun Mertes-Frady vielleicht, nur wurde sie nicht gefragt. Ihre Bilder sind in der Galerie Maud Piquion zu sehen (Preise auf Anfrage). In Köln geboren, hat Mertes-Frady sich mit New York nicht gerade die schläfrigste Stadt als Lebensmittelpunkt ausgesucht. Allerdings transformiert die abstrakte Malerin den Metropolenrummel zum inwendigen Schillern, das sie mit Farbschichtungen und metallischen Pigmenten erzielt. Indem sie ihre Gemälde je nach Betrachterstandpunkt die „Identität“ wechseln lässt, verhindert die Künstlerin tatsächlich, dass man ihr Werk allzuschnell abhakt.

Jens Hindrichsen
Nov. 7. 2009

- Having appeared in various guises throughout Gudrun Mertes-Frady's career, the grid has become her muse. ....By bringing the bold matrix and subtle background together, Mertes-Frady succeeds in creating a new dimension that makes each work ebb and flow.

Constance Wynham
ARTnews 2007

- Gudrun Mertes-Frady is no longer an artist to whom one politely pays attention: she’s become an artist to get excited about.....The two best canvasses, concentrate the city: its skyline, its light, the abrupt juxtapositions that define it and that stately calm that brings us up short.

Mario Naves

- Gudrun Mertes-Frady’s commitment to the material pleasure of paint and the expanded vocabulary of formal interests have recently resulted in a remarkable change. In the context of her previous work, these successful paintings are a sufficient radical turn that the artist’s signature concerns are identifiable more in the handling of the paint than in the constitution of the grid.

In Shift to Myth, 68 X 72 in., one of the largest and most hauntingly electric of these paintings, the pale slate-grey and white circuit patterns present, to near hallucinary effect, a glow sufficiently deep to recall the lustrous appearance of encaustic.

Edward Leffingwell

- Painter Gudrun Mertes-Frady’s recent gridlike formats tease forth nuanced and subtle shifts of light, color, and line ..... In the larger works, such as Shift To Myth and Blue Surround, there was a terrific buoyancy, as though the grid might lift off the picture plane at any their best, they proved how much room there is for ingenuity and invention in this particular realm of pure abstraction.

Ann Landi
ARTnews 2003

- Her most recent work continues to radiate a illumination that is almost seasonal, from reticence of a pale wintry day to the glow of spring, the glare of summer to more sombre casts, the sensation shifting from a crystalline delicacy to a slow sonorous rumble....There is also what lies beneath, which comes up like pentimenti: the paintings’ history, genealogy, archaeology, traces that are both process and poetics.

Lilly Wei
Catalogue essay 2002

....Mertes-Frady tracks the encompassing comfort of a community presently absent, and an original state of being. In perfect tune with a condition of our Western mind today, the artist asks basic questions with no answers. Her secular art seeks the sacred, where an acrid self, fragmented in structure and attenuated in tone, hopes for an absolute.

Arlene Raven
Catalogue essay 2000


As a timeless organizing principle, geometry is the underlying matrix or architecture of all my work. I am drawn to its symmetry and quasi-symmetry and the limitless potential to create my own world.

My work is about clarity and structure, pared down to essential forms. In my recent paintings, I use metallic pigments, like aluminum and graphite. I also use mica particles mixed with my colors to affect a kinetic quality of illusory motion depending from which angle the work is seen.

Some of the mica particles are coated with highly refractive titanium oxide, producing a dual effect when viewed from different sides. Combination with other colors results in the interference of light waves.

I’m very interested to explore physical fact and psychic affect of color and form with this process. I work toward the instant the painting has its own center, its own logic, physically and intellectually. Most of all I want my work to be about deceleration, in the spirit of the works by Olafur Eliasson and the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, as a counter point to the ever accelerating whirl of our time, in which our lives seem trapped.

There is one more thing of importance to me: I’m going blatantly for a sense of beauty.

Gudrun Mertes-Frady
New York - 2020