Samantha Bittman at Thomas Robertello Gallery
“Perceptual Notions” highlights the Chicago artist’s abstract paintings on handwoven textiles.
For an artist who earned her M.F.A. from SAIC less than two years ago, Samantha Bittman has a remarkably long list of group shows on her CV. But “Perceptual Notions” represents our first opportunity to see a significant amount of her work on its own, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Bittman’s 15 small-scale acrylic paintings, all completed in 2011, fit within a local tradition of geometric abstraction. They resemble certain pieces by Chicago artist Steven Husby, but close inspection reveals the similarities are superficial. While Bittman also experiments with color, creating so-called hard-edge paintings in gray scale as well as shades of yellow and gold, she avoids Husby’s machinelike precision.
A trained weaver, Bittman executed most of these paintings on textiles she produced herself. (The others, including a few round paintings, are on panels.) She obscures or interrupts parts of her woven patterns using painted grids, squares and mazelike arrangements of lines, as in The Longest Distance Between Two Points (pictured). Because the artist matches the colors of her paints and threads so skillfully, her compositions almost blend into their backgrounds. The paint’s failure to disappear completely, however, gives these works a sense of three-dimensionality lacking from most geometric abstraction. As Bittman’s paintings seem to float atop her textiles, they induce a fun degree of Op-Art vertigo.
The textiles’ rough textures pull Bittman’s patterns out of alignment. Her refusal to use tape, as artists often do when making hard-edge paintings, adds to the work’s slight imperfections. But these aren’t flaws. In emphasizing Bittman’s craft and labor, “Perceptual Notions” proves geometric abstraction can go in a different, warmer direction.