Between 1975 and 1980, George Peck produced a substantial collection of monochromatic paintings. Below is George Peck's artist statement concerning this body of work, followed by a catalogue of his monochromatic paintings.
George Peck Statement: Monochromatic Paintings
Barnett Newman wrote that “The problem of painting is physical and metaphysical, the same as I think life is physical and metaphysical.” In 1974, I was introduced to Barnett Newman’s widow, Annalee Newman, and as we became friends, she showed me Newman’s studios in their still undisturbed state. I had already embarked on my monochromatic paintings. Though the name implies singularity, monochromatic paintings have a complexity that changes one’s experience of time. As the average viewing time of a painting is said to be two seconds, slowness can be acute, even uncomfortable, for the viewer. The painting process is a means to arrive at an end, a freeing trajectory – nostalgia, nature, memory, relationships, bedtime stories, not simply the act of painting but rather giving a vision of a time-zone where nothing else exists. Making these paintings meant working on them every day, adding layers, waiting for them to dry, and adding more layers, up to the point of completion and of no return.
Through the trajectory and range of my work, it can be readily discerned that I am not a signature-style artist. The focus, and indeed the style, of my work has changed with my travels and travails. It seems that what influenced me most was the sense that I do not seem to belong anywhere. During my childhood in Budapest, I saw a world of which I did not feel a part. My father returned to Budapest from a labor camp after the war and rebuilt his factory, only to have it “nationalized” shortly thereafter by the communists; they declared him a “capitalist”, throwing him into jail for several years and labeling me the “son of a capitalist”. Our planned trip to New York together, before the communist takeover, was cancelled. This was a great disappointment, missing an adventure to a vibrant, fast, modern city that was in stark contrast to the war-ridden landscape of Europe. Art, jazz, fashion, theatre, Greenwich Village – indeed, a world of new possibilities. I was eight years old, but these visions were already clearly defined in my mind. When the Hungarian uprising happened in 1956, it was clear that I had to leave. I left alone, as my family could not face another upheaval. My sixteenth birthday marked my arrival in New York City.
My monochromatic paintings deal, on some level, with the handling of chaos. The interest is not in one’s feelings or personality, but in attaining a state of equilibrium. I see in my monochromatic work the ambition of changing time, of bending paint, and of searching for light.
These paintings were constructed to create a bent surface not unlike a segment of a ship’s hull. The painting itself would have a starting composition of three sections, stacked horizontally. The adjacent edges of these sections were points of great pressure, creating an almost bodily wound – two lines of demarcation cutting into the painting and into the vision. These wounds, for me, have the quality of scar tissue, forming on the surface, while the layers of paint are the real depth of the painting, where color starts to speak of distance and light. As the layers of paint increased, the ‘wounds’ existed on the seemingly impenetrable surface, while the layers of color allow you to see deeper and deeper. These scar-like lines shift position in my later monochromatic paintings when they migrate apart, moving towards the top and the bottom, serving to open the paintings themselves. In this way, the three bands simply become one surface.
After the brushstroke was applied to the surface, I then drove a highly polished trowel across the curved canvas. As I spread and smoothed the paint, the brushstrokes were obliterated. After each stroke, all excess paint was wiped off of the trowel in order that the accumulation of layers be clean and the surface smooth. While the sides of the canvas were kept clean, the paint slightly extended past the perimeter of the edges, giving the painting its own physicality. Each layer of paint itself was added in order to create density and, at the same time, retain translucency. The top layer of paint may at first seem impenetrable, demanding time spent in order to allow the painting to open up and yield insight to the viewer.
What is in front of you is most likely a dark painting. The painting is thick, and the surface is bent in such a way that light becomes imperceptibly radial. Not unlike viewing a segment of a planet, this is both a pictorial experience and a physical one. These two forces, the physical and pictorial, want to contradict, but instead they start to pull at each other. The viewer may experience that the convex becomes flattened, or even concave. Color becomes light, and then color again, and gives entrance into the painting, into its depth – a place to rest and become weightless, no outside world, no history, no present, no style, no future, no self-consciousness, no “other” that exists.
above: Installation View / GA 10013, 1975; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 48" x 34" x 8"
above: Installation View / Amice, 1976; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 60" x 47 1/2" x 3 1/4"
above: Installation View / Virginia, 1976; oil and wax on canvas, 58" x 45" x 3 1/4"
above: Installation View / Bent painting, 1976; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 22" x 14 7/8" x 2 1/4"
above: Front View / Bent painting, 1976
above: Back View / Bent Painting, 1976
above: Installation View / Untitled 1976; oil and wax on canvas, 60" x 44" x 7"
above: Installation View / Untitled, 1976; oil and wax on canvas, 47" x 35" x 4 1/2"
above: Installation View / Ed #1, 1976; oil and wax on plywood structure, 4' x 5'
above: Installation View / Ed #3 1976-77; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 60" x 47 1/2" x 3 1/4"
above: Installation view / Wisperjet, 1977; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 60" x 47 1/2" x 3 1/4"
above: Installation View / Yellow, 1977; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 60" x 47" x 3"
above: Installation View / Texas Queen, 1977; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 60" x 47 1/2" x 3 1/4"
above: Installation View / K. Painting for B, 1977; oil on canvas on plywood structure, 5' x 4' x 6"
above : Susan Caldwell, Inc. Installation shot, 1977
above: Installation View / Romantic Painting #1, 1977078; oil on canvas, 72" x 57" x 3 1/2"
above: Installation View / Tango Esmeraldo, 1978; oil on canvas over wood, 57" x 60 1/2" x 3 3/8"
above: Installation View / Dancer, 1979; oil on canvas on masonite, 5' x 6' x 10"
above: Installation View / Downtown Pink, 1979; oil on canvas on masonite, 5' x 6' x 10"
above: Installation View / Hurricane PTG, 1979; oil on canvas on masonite, 5' x 6' x 10"
above: Installation View / Angelita, 1979; oil on canvas, 7' x 4' x 3 1/4"
above: Susan Caldwell, Inc.: Installation shot, 1979
above: George Peck and Mia Westerland at Tony Birkhead Gallery, 1980