“Tomma Abts is authoritatively and innovatively expanding the scope of abstract painting,” says James Rondeau, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago. “While seemingly indebted to historical models her work is utterly novel. Considered across several decades, the work beautifully comprises a self-contained universe of the artist’s own making. At the same time, Abts’s precise approach continues to exert serious influence on contemporary painting.”
The works feature formal connections that speak to the complexities of the artist’s process, elements from one painting may reappear in another, demonstrating a bridge from one painting to the next. Abts works with formal elements—arcs, circles, planes, polygons, and stripes—and interweaves them with highlights and shadows, converting two-dimensional canvases into complex illusory spaces. She does not make preparatory sketches but instead works intuitively directly on canvas. Abts’s acrylic and oil-canvas paintings, mostly all measured to the exact same dimensions (19.8 x 15 inches), involve complex, nonrepresentational shapes that are layered and woven throughout each piece. Abts titles her paintings by choosing names from a dictionary of first names from a particular region in Germany.
“Tomma Abts has found limitless possibilities for expanding her experiments in painting,” says Lekha Hileman Waitoller, co-curator of the exhibition. “Her work insistently challenges the boundaries of the medium by exploring the materiality of painting as is particularly evident in her shaped and cast canvases.”