The Only Math That Interests Me: Channa Horwitz at Lisson Gallery

Channa Horwitz, Rhythm of Lines, 1993. Gold leaf and flashe on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm, 36 x 48 in. ©️ Channa Horwitz, Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

Channa Horwitz

Lisson Gallery 

March 3 through April 16, 2022

By PRIYA GANDHI, March 2022

At Lisson Gallery on 24th street, a handful of Channa Horwitz’s paintings hang on the walls. Though a small presentation it is a fraught one, brimming with stimulating angles and colors.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, Horwitz was unrecognized professionally for most of her career. She passed away at 80 in 2013, the same year she was featured in the Venice Biennale. She was subsequently featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2014, a posthumous highlight that introduced her works to a much larger audience.

With the Venice and Whitney stamps of approval, Horwitz rose to art world recognition. Lisson’s show is their fourth presentation of Horwitz’s work, and focuses on her works from 1984 to 2004. 1984 was the year Horwitz became enamored with the use of eight specific angles of lines, and all of the methods in which eight angles can be used to create measured patterns. She began highlighting the angles she created in vibrant colors, and the layering of these simple, rigid lines became her own complex study in numbers and systems. Horwitz called her system of assigning angles to colors "Sonakinatography" - her own way of visually tracking patterns and rhythms through time.  

I found myself quickly invested in 1 Canon Twelve, Moire Number 2, 1985. Strips of pink and green cross each other to create a thick border around a large square. The square within the borders consists of colors of the rainbow weaved together in smaller rectangles and squares. The layered, flat lines create the depth of an optical illusion, and the suggestion of an illusion makes my mind wonder if there are tricks within Horwitz’s paintings. The pattern may be a puzzle with the most basic of variables at play, but it is a puzzle nonetheless. I imagine it as an abstract map, an attempt through Horwitz’s “Sonakinatography” system to track that which is visual. This tracking leads to dizzying repetitions, each with their own personalities as the squares and rectangles take on their own colors through the various weaved lines. The gray slits of space between colors are like spots of sun through a window blind; there’s something inherent in these patterns, something that feels very human and “natural,” regardless of their assigned, rigid nature. 

Channa Horwitz, 1 Canon Twelve, Moire Number 2, 1985. Casein on mylar, 81.3 x 76.2 cm, 32 x 30 in. ©️ Channa Horwitz, Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

In Rhythm of Lines, 1993, vibrant, spring green provides a background for a yellow square layered with a block of orange - on top of those three bold colors are rectangular shapes in various states. Gold leaf peaks through thin bars of green and navy lines, covering the shapes. The perspective is unclear as the depths of the rectangular shapes are confused with white backdrops: How can we begin to graph these shapes, these lines that seem to make sense but on a second look, might not? It is not so easy to find your footing within the confines of Horwitz’s lines. Towards the bottom left corner, rows of thin navy lines break through the yellow boundaries they are assigned to in other parts of the painting. A rule is broken, but all is still linear. The colors all appear in matte blocks except for the gold leaf, another small, calculated disruption, a fabulous disconnection. In addition to the four larger pieces, seven smaller drawings line one of the walls. These small drawings are tiny universes, jagged-edged distillations of Horwitz’s larger line practice. 

What could be confusing about the simplicity of lines layered over one another? Or the lack of any shading, which gives the impression of singular blocks of color stacked upon each other? This confusion points us back to the shapes that make up the world that surrounds us; what is simple is really ungraspable, always slipping away from us as the simple, known things build upon each other. Part of the thrill is not knowing exactly what you are looking at. Sometimes a difficult math equation is the most exciting to try and solve. The challenge of the visual puzzle doesn’t have a solution, per say, but still holds the struggle of an equation. Horwitz provides these challenges along with a refreshing side of smooth, stark coloring. Dimensions create optical illusions, providing proof that a line is not simply a line, but something to be questioned. This fascination with the questioning of something foundational like the line is not new: Many renowned artists have found the basics of numbers, like Jasper Johns, to be highly useful in attempts to raise questions about the validities of foundations. The difference is that Horwitz’s West Coast Minimalism shines in a way that leaves me simultaneously confused and intrigued. Her use of the most vibrant of colors breathes an overwhelming life into something as simple as a line.  WM

Priya Gandhi

Priya Gandhi is a writer located in New York City. She has held positions at Creative Time and the Smart Museum of Art, and has been published in Hyperallergic and MODA Magazine.

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