HJ Bott: Paradigms in Paint and Wire
Veteran Houston artist, HJ Bott has applied what he calls his "displacement-of-volume system" to his paintings and wire sculptures for decades. It's still serving the self-described Baroque-Minimalist - who insists the term isn't contradictory - well. The sculptures combine hand-weaving techniques with industrial mesh, rods and wire to create curved forms and spaces. In his paintings, Bott etches lines into medium-density fiberboard to define geometric patterns that he then coats with glossy color. Wavy patterns dominate the show, so ask for a behind-the-scenes peek at Bott's best new painting, which isn't on display because of its zig-zag composition. 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. today and 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose.
Houston Press Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010
If Nothing Else Matters
By Kelly Klaasmeyer
You may have noticed the big-ass "For Sale" sign in front of 4411 Montrose. Former Enron executive Jeff Shankman built the gallery complex six years ago and has since declared bankruptcy. The property is being liquidated, but 4411's gallery tenants appear unfazed. In fact, as they wait for the building to acquire some new owners, they're presenting some of their most interesting shows
Anya Tish Gallery is presenting "Harvey Bott: Paradigms in Paint and Wire." Bott is a 76-year-old artist who is way more productive than most 26-year-old artists, and he's been making strong work since he was a teenager. Bott's 2003 show at Sicardi Gallery of work he made as an 18-year-old was a revelation [see "Secret Taping," November 20, 2003]. The early-1950s cache of drawings made with lines and angles of masking and cellophane tape predated Frank Stella's stripe paintings — and were better.
Stripes are also in evidence in this show of Bott's most recent work. The artist is offering up some nice paintings, with irresistibly thick, glossy color painted over deeply scored sheets of Masonite. The cuts in the Masonite create parallel ridges that underlie and define the vibrant, shiny geometric forms of the work. The show also includes some floor and wall sculptures from the '80s and '90s. They're made from cut and curved sheets of wire mesh with strands of colored plastic-coated wire woven into them to create patterns. The floor piece Another Big Wave (1989) is the most successful, but it's really work that begs to be much larger scale. Bott is just the septuagenarian to pull it off.
Glasstire.com September, 2010
HJ Bott: Paradigms in Paint and Wire
Anya Tish Gallery
Friday, September 10, 2010
Through October 9, 2010
HJ Bott's new collection of work, Paradigms in Paint and Wire, at Anya Tish Gallery includes a series of paintings and wire sculptures created over the last decade. Bott’s fascination with the complex and hypnotic systems of lines within his paintings and sculpture stem from a motif he developed in the seventies called the DoV module in which he organizes a system of archetypal patterns and symbols into a grid-like structure.
Paper City Houston art news for September
By Catherine D. Anspon
August 23, 2010
H.J. Bott’s Perky Quirky Trialog, 2010
The brilliant H.J. Bott continues his geometric antics with “Paradigms in Paint and Wire” at Anya Tish Gallery, rolling out obsessive canvases circa 2010 and (almost) never-shown wire works (September 10 – October 9)
H.J. BOTT Harmonizing Lines Summer 2010
At a corporate job many years ago, HJ Bott
stumbled upon a formal system of creating archetypal tiles that would become
the source of his art for `years to come. Essentially he drew a
square and ran an S through the center a simple process that yields
anthropological symbols of historical variance. Repeating the “S”
formulates an infinite variety of modular components and symbols such as the yin/yang, fleur de-lis, equilateral diamond or Greek crosses, simply four of many.
The “Displacement-of-Volume” concept or DoV module is a formal system of either
two or multi dimensional forms expressed in media as diverse as bronze, stuffed
sewn fabric, or twisted woven multi colored mesh wire. A square
grid structure combined with a circle, square and semicircles generate a set of
harmonies which formulate the basic quadrant.
Influenced by constructivism, Max Bill and akin to artists
like Gego and Carlos Cruz Diez, Bott explores the phenomenon of line, and views
it as a vehicle that deals with angles and curves in perpetual
opposition. Mark making visually facilitates variation within the
module. Light and the participation of the viewer come into play
experientially. Moving from one position to another one can partake in a
two dimensional work viewing monochromatic schemes that alter with light and
position. Bott also explores the module in the third dimension as well and has
created sculpture that twists solidity and structure based on the materials he
chooses to deal with at a given time.
A background in anthropology, allowed the development of his
work to unfold intuitively. The University of Houston department of
engineering received a painting by Bott as a donation and in honor of the
occasion he was invited to speak. Mathematicians and engineers made up
most of the audience, after Bott spoke the guests raced to the reception and
wrote complex formulaic equations on blackboards inquiring about how the
painting was made? Did you use this formula? Did you equate this
way? No! Intuitive questioning from a sociometric point of view is how
the paintings are made.
Interested in formal aesthetic problems and the momentary nature
of line Bott uses found objects, everything from bubble gum to balsa
wood. Large neon string installations explore line in the third dimension
inviting the viewer to step inside a grid structure and be in a colorful
altered reality of string. Stacking the module with various materials
creates towering architectural structures. Material handling becomes an
exploration of physicality, hard and soft, dense or light and once again the
formal questions of aesthetics are rearranged magically yielding some new form
for the viewer to explore.
Bott had no clue that this way of working and exploring would last
for so long. A number of artists over the years have said it’s a logo.
Bott’s reply would indicate far more, it’s an expedition discovering what line
really means. A line generates more lines they are a symphony
harmonizing because the edges are also lines from another viewpoint. No
outlines contain form yet the whole form is made up of lines. If the
viewer is able to see the work in this way it begins to alter their perception
of the world allowing a whole new possibility of seeing.
Bott has long admired many artists to name a few Destijl founder, Georges Vantongerloo, Anish Kapoor and Jill Moser. One could assume that Bott was influenced by Kapoor’s handling of shine and patina, Moser’s dynamic playful drawings and Vantongerloo’s tenderly precise use of line. An affinity with these elements appears in Bott’s own work over time. Precision of line creating space in the situ installation series for Project Row Houses. The variance of surface treatment and the use of color in his early sculptural works as seen in G.S. Undulations above. Refractive patina surface treatments that shine in the spacescape series A particularly inventive use of tapes of all sorts appears throughout as an adventure of line expression.
Bott’s current work
repeats a political way of expressing, this time dealing with issues of
environmental waste and abuse of our planet. Constructing with more than
forty different horizons that landscape painters use, Bott formulates
environments utilizing superimposed images. They translate
light differently,monochromatic schemes become an exploration of all the
different gradations of color. Toxic waste sites viewed in a different
way call the viewer to wake up and see the urgency of what is occurring in our
H.J. Bott is represented by Anya Tish
Gallery, Houston, Texas.
Houston Press Thursday, Sept 20, 2006
Harvey Bott is like some mad math professor – the artist is obsessed with geometry. His previous show at Sicardi Gallery - masking tape drawings from the 1950’s - revealed a young artist’s fascination with dividing space with line and looked like an earlier and better version of Frank Stella. “H J Bott: Raising the Line” is an installment of the artist’s more recent geometric musings. Among the works is a planning drawing for his installation Fluid Architecture, a chamber which used the ridiculously low-tech materials of string and black light to create shapes in space. Another drawing DoV Master Multiplicans, (1972 – 76) graphs out a shape Bott has divined that is exactly one fourth of a square and is both curved and angled. Meanwhile some of the graphically strongest works, like Footnote Retrospective, (2005) take the ideas of his 1950’s works and render them three dimensional using strips of pale wood subtly delineated with India ink. Who knew math could be so attractive?
“H J Bott: Raising the Line” through October 7, 2006 at Sicardi Gallery, Houston
Thursday, Sept 23, 2004 Best Art Gallery
Sicardi Gallery: María Inés Sicardi started her gallery ten years ago, focusing on Latin American artists. The always carefully curated space has a history of introducing intriguing contemporary work and thoughtfully presenting lesser-known works by 20th-century masters (such as the elegantly awkward late sculptures of the Venezuelan artist Gego). On the contemporary front, Oscar Muñoz's exhibition at Sicardi Gallery was the standout of FotoFest 2004. The artist delivered an aerial view of notoriously violent Cali, Colombia -- shown on the floor under fractured sheets of safety glass. Muñoz's video, in which he painted and repainted a rapidly disappearing self-portrait on concrete with a water-dipped brush, was, hands down, the best exploration of FotoFest's water theme. But the gallery is relaxed about straying from its Latin American specialization in order to show something unique like the (pre-Frank Stella) tape drawings of Houston artist Harvey Bott, which were made in the early 1950s, while he was still a teenager.
Houston Press Thursday, Nov 20 2003
Harvey Bott's drawings languished in his studio for 50 years
By Kelly Klaasmeyer
The drawings now hanging on the wall at Sicardi Gallery were almost tossed out. Harvey Bott was cleaning out his studio and had a barrel of old things he wanted to get rid of (when you've been making art for five decades, you accumulate a lot of stuff). But David Brauer, the art historian/art raconteur extraordinaire, was looking for work to include in a show he was curating and asked Bott if he could look through the container. Brauer dug around, fishing out a small red sketchbook. Inside was a cache of work done in 1952 by an 18-and-a-half-year-old Harvey Bott.
Courtesy of Sicardi Gallery Harvey Bott's tape drawings,made when
he was a teenager, still look modern.
The book contained an incredible series of drawings. They were made from tape, which was neatly applied to paper to create linear, abstract works. In his youth, Bott had submitted them to the faculty of the Art Center College of Los Angeles, and they wound up giving him a $5,000 cash scholarship. If you look at the drawings and try to put them into a historical context, you realize they were created during the abstract expressionist zeitgeist of the early '50s, but they look like Frank Stella's proto-minimalist stripe paintings, way before Frank Stella made them.
There is something jolting about seeing such strong, cohesive work and realizing it is 50 years old -- and that it was made by a teenager.
The lines that cross Bott's pages have a subtle physical presence different from the self-possessed paint strokes Stella would introduce. Here, the taped line is a kind of two-dimensional object, if that's possible. The drawings evidence Bott's long-standing fascination with line and the mathematical division of space. (Bott once won a math scholarship to Rice University but decided not to go because, at the time, Rice offered only a couple of art classes.) Fifty years later, the works still feel fresh and smart, with an extra dash of hipness resulting from contemporary art's recent tape fascination. But the strength of the work far outstrips any art fashion or nostalgia.
The drawings are executed in both cellophane tape and masking tape in neutral tones of black, gray and beige. Who knew tape came in colors in the '50s? For the wittily minimalScotchline, Bott simply placed rows of clear Scotch tape on top of each other. They are barely visible, divided by lines of graphite on the edge of the tape. Bott has created a line that isn't really a line but an edge. The drawing has the calm, thoughtful horizontality of anAgnes Martin -- before Agnes Martin.
Next to it is 13 Horizontals, a series of horizontal strips of black tape. The edges are torn with care but not cut. His isn't super-fussy X-Acto knife design work; the execution is matter-of-fact and workmanlike. The strips of tape stack on top of each other with an engaging solidity that is more appealing than a brush stroke.
Half Gloss features vertical black stripes partially glazed by strips of clear tape that also cover the bare paper. It's a simple, subtle piece. Other works, including Look Up, present Stella-esque concentric squares made from masking tape. And the angularity of AN is a dynamic hybrid of references to geometric forms and letters of the alphabet.
Looking at the carefully inscribed signatures, we're reminded of Bott's youth. Avoid Authority features vertical stripes of gray and black, with a tiny chunk of tape moved to the side, interrupting the continuity of the work -- and allowing room for Bott's initials. Bott makes it clear that he's the one in control of these images.
The drawings have become a little smudgy and grubby over the years, but that only gives them a kind of gravitas. This is visually sophisticated work for any artist, but especially for a teenager. Bott's family moved from Colorado to San Antonio when he was 14. One wonders what his career path would've been like if he'd been in New York and had Stella's prep school and Princeton University connections. There's the work the artist makes, and then there's his timing, marketing, connections and luck.
Bott joined the army in 1954 and went to Europe; he spent an additional year there on an art scholarship. When he returned to the States, he took some classes at NYU and eventually saw Stella's work. His first reaction was "Hey, that guy is doing my stuff!" But Bott is philosophical about the way things turned out, quipping, "He who gets to market first wins."
Stella, forever immortalized by his early work, has been resting on his laurels and churning out a lot of overproduced, lame crap. Bott, meanwhile, is still working and exploring. His most recent project is an amazing series of low-tech/high-tech installations that define three-dimensional space through line. The works look like fiber-optic strands but are actually colored yarn and black light.
The enthusiasm of the art community for Bott's 1952 work has been contagious. Fifty years later, the artist himself is reinvigorated by the exhibition and its revisiting of his past. He is also revisiting materials. "Gawd, have you seen all the new tapes?" he asks, guiltily confiding that he just went out and bought 200 bucks' worth.
Volume 41, 2003
H.J. Bott: Dividing Line: Drawings 1952
By Wren M. Allen -
H.J. Bott, Diagonal Box, 1952
Tape and graphite on paper
9 13/16 x 8 1/16 inches
Dividing the Line: Drawings 1952 is an exhibit of mixed-media drawings by H. J. Bott compiled from the artist’s personal archive. Bott created these drawings in 1952 as a young student in San Antonio, while preparing to enter art school in California. These early works reflect thezeitgeist of the 1950s, when many young artists were creating cool, process-oriented works in reaction to the emotional Abstract Expressionist movement. At the time, the young Bott admired the work of the masters*—Caravaggio, Renoir, Poussin, Brueghel and Michelangelo, the emotionally and psychologically-charged works of artists such as William Blake and Auguste Rodin, as well as the more intellectually rigorous oeuvres of Thomas Hart Benton, Frank Lloyd Wright and most importantly Marcel Duchamp, whose attitude of “arrogant originality” proved a lasting influence. As Bott continued his career, his ability to find inspiration and edification in the widest range of artists grew apace, eventually including peers and artists of younger generations as his own work matured.
Bott’s works at Sicardi consist of strips of yellowed masking, black electrical and transparent tape laid in strict linear patterns on sheets of sketchbook paper. Before laying out the tape, the young artist rubbed graphite on the top and bottom edges of the roll. As a result, a hair-thin gray line visually reinforces the borders between each strip. The artist layered the different tapes to create shades of color and varying transparencies and opacities. Considering the fragility of the materials, these fifty-year-old drawings are in remarkably good condition. The tape is still firmly attached to the paper, which has turned a creamy buff color with age.
The compositions are based on geometric divisions of the page. Carefully mitered corners join diagonal lines. Despite obvious attention to craftsmanship, human error creeps in. Fingerprints smudge surfaces with graphite. Tape strips torn irregularly from the roll form ragged edges, trimmed sketchbook pages are slightly off square.
H.J. Bott, Half Gloss, 1952
Tape and graphite on paper
8 1/16 x 9 3/4 inches
Bott’s rectilinear compositions evoke patterns found in quilts and parquet woodwork. His calligraphic signature at the bottom of each page looks almost like an embroidered monogram and heightens the reference to textiles. More importantly, perpendicular forms reflect the artist’s discovery of Bauhaus, De Stijl and Russian Constructivism. Three Layers, for example, uses similar reductive elements of color and form that one might find in a Piet Mondrian painting. Vertical stripes of masking tape and black electrician’s tape stand edge to edge in a simple array. The narrow masking tape partially covers the broader black tape, leaving a thin border of black on each side of a gray color created by layering the two tape varieties. In the upper left center, some masking tape has lifted, or the paper has buckled, which increases the variation in color. Vertical bars of tape move forward and backward on the planar surface.
Faking Symmetry allows an organic irregularity in construction to break the early Modernist grid. Vertical strips of tape overlap each other across the page. They are closely spaced on the left-hand side, but the overlap grows wider towards the center. As the strips fill the page, the overlap grows narrow again. The strips are also slightly off the perpendicular. Thin graphite stripes and shifting depths of tape create an impression of waving grass or bamboo.
While the composition of these drawings shows a debt to Modernism, the titles playfully reflect the influence of Marcel Duchamp and his chess-player’s approach to artmaking. Some titles are prosaic descriptions: 13 Horizontals on the Vertical, for example, or AN, which crisply uses the diagonal shapes of letterforms in alternating diagonal and vertical strips. Strips fill the page until the last tiny triangle of tape is shoehorned into the top and bottom of the paper.
Other titles form cryptic or ironic imperatives: Avoid Crinkles, for example, features paper crinkled under the pressure of stretched tape. InJustify Balance, pairs and triplets of horizontal and vertical strips strike a precarious balance as they stack up on one another.
H.J. Bott, Justify Balance, 1952
Tape and graphite on paper
8 1/16 x 9 3/4 inches
Finally, some titles reflect the rules the artist used to construct the work. In L-R/T-B, the artist laid out the drawing working from left to right and top to bottom. Vertical stripes flip between the left and the right hand sides of the page, while the corresponding horizontal bars begin at the top and flow to the bottom. A space stands between each stripe and each pair of stripes. This playful game, combined with the textures and construction, creates proto-Conceptual work that offers a certain warmth and interest not always seen in the Conceptual school. These drawings indicate the ability of the youthful Bott to converse cogently with the geometric modernists who influenced his college career, such as Josef Albers and the Constructivists, while signaling the precocious development of an artist who has maintained an avid interest and connection to the contemporary art community throughout his career.
*The writer would like to thank Mr. Bott for his well-organized notes discussing the growth and evolution of his interests and influences, especially in the early stages of his career.