Glenn Ligon An Open Letter

An artist versed in language and fluent in the art of quotation, Glenn Ligon’s inspiration and sources over the last three decades have ranged from high literature to stand-up comedy, from a single aphorism to an entire essay. He has abstracted the grandeur of James Baldwin’s essay Stranger in the Village in stencilled black and white paintings, rendered the words “negro sunshine” by Gertrude Stein in black-painted neon, and transcribed the off-colour routines of Richard Pryor into text paintings, highlighting the social and political value systems that give these texts meaning and how they are altered or underscored through the work.

However, the works in An Open Letter at Thomas Dane Gallery abandon any such reference and concentrate instead on the components of spoken and written language: sounds, symbols, and letterforms. For such an artist to narrow his linguistic focus to a simple field of letters is both radical and unexpected, yet natural for Ligon, who has always laboured to uncover the essence of language.

The works here continue his Debris Field series, which premiered at Thomas Dane Gallery in Naples in 2018, and were subsequently exhibited in Paris (2018), Los Angeles (2019), New York (2021), and now here in London. Ligon uses the same ground of silkscreened letters on white or dramatic red backgrounds, and alters each composition through a series of overlapping letter forms and non-linguistic mark-making, ultimately creating an open-ended system which allows him to explore, in his own words, “the possibility of meaning, the elements of meaning.”

Formally, the Debris Field works resemble a wreckage, a primal explosion—or seconds after the Big Bang—yet they also retain the conceptual inspirations of Henri Michaux, Jean Dubuffet, Islamic calligraphy, and concrete poetry.

A recent iteration in the series, a group of smaller works on paper, feature imperfectly traced lines and grids around and onto the letters—Fences as the artist names them—which simultaneously highlight and draw attention to the composition while placing the works in conversation with real world border politics and the language of fences and walls that undergird it.

More than four years into his Debris Field opus, Ligon presents An Open Letter, his fourth exhibition with Thomas Dane Gallery, and the third in London.

Running concurrently with Glenn Ligon: An Open Letter will be an exhibition of work by Susan Rothenberg at Thomas Dane Gallery London, 3 Duke St, St James’s (4 February – 9 April 2022).

Duration 04 February 2022 - 02 April 2022
Times Tuesday to Friday 11am-6pm Saturday 12-6pm
Cost Free
Venue Thomas Dane Gallery
Address 3 & 11 Duke Street St James's, London, SW1Y 6BN
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