Clay Vorhes creates paintings that skirt the line between representation and abstraction. When seen from afar, these arresting images seem like nonobjective compositions. The network of lines that thrust across each canvas harks back to the taut, haunting geometries of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series. As one moves closer, however, it soon becomes clear that these paintings are populated by small figures that hang, leap and suspend precariously from the linear frame. These people are performers—acrobats, divers, gymnasts and dancers.
In visual terms, these figures provide accents that offer relief from the stark scaffold of lines. They punctuate the compositions, creating a cadence of organic points and counter-points. In human terms, these figures function as ready access points to the paintings, making inert geometry seem vital and alive. We identify with these diminutive figures. They draw us into the work, pulling us into the narrative by allowing us to marvel at their feats of daring. The French novelist and critic Michel Butor once spoke of the need for artists to ‘populate’ painting. Vorhes does this literally by turning abstraction into a world full of people who lead lives of precarious balance—just like us.
Michael Zakian, Director
Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art