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Terry Winters Draws the Shape of Space

“Sumptuous” is one of the first words that comes to mind when looking at the drawings of Terry Winters. His drawings bring together two divergent aesthetic possibilities — material sensuality and structural restraint — to attain a form that never devolves into mere visual effects. This is because he uses topological models and diagrams as a starting point for his work. Often consisting of many small abstract sections, which add up to a pattern, a multifaceted shape, or a glyph-like linear structure, these forms limit the ways the artist can manipulate them, which is clearly his intention.

This method of drawing connects Winters to Jasper Johns, who was limited by the American flag; Brice Marden, who worked with a grid or the surface of a rectangle; and Sol LeWitt, whose sets of self-devised rules determined the placement of a line in advance. The shift from being inventive — after decades of Picasso’s wild inventiveness left many artists at a dead end — to using a readymade form is particularly crucial in the work of Johns, and his work inspired many young artists, including Marden and Winters. It gave them a way to begin. (Philip Guston and Richard Artschwager provided different possibilities, but that is the subject of another essay.)

Topology is the study of the properties of space that can be preserved when a form, such as a möbius strip or a trefoil knot, is stretched, twisted, crumpled, or bent, but not collaged or cut apart. It became a major branch of mathematics in the middle of the 20th century. For Winters, the use of topological forms enables him to resist the tyranny of the plane without resorting to well-trod means such as perspectival space or collage. His drawings of topological forms relate to the relationship between surface and space, part and whole — between things in themselves and the sets they belong to. In contrast with many of his peers, for whom drawing has been a means of expression or a type of production rather than a form of investigation, for Winters, drawing is the driving force of all his art...

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