In the late 1930s and early ’40s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) institutionalized the form when it commissioned artists to make murals that would beautify public spaces around the country. While a majority were men, female artists such as Mary Earley, Helen Forbes, Marion Gilmore, Edith Hamlin, and
all earned money for their colorful, figurative, large-scale creations—of farm laborers dancing, people playing instruments, and other quaint scenes. As
blossomed in the 1960s, artist
famously created instructions for assistants and future generations to regenerate his blueprints for conceptual wall work depicting geometric shapes; the subsequent murals were “his,” even if he wasn’t around to see them executed. The WPA murals began to look tame (even outdated) in comparison to such radical new aesthetic programs.
Within the past few years, a group of ambitious women artists have successfully made the form their own. In her current show at Gladstone Gallery, which is on view through February 16th, Swiss artist
has painted the walls with thick, eye-tricking lines. In one gallery, she’s installed a series of sharp, vertical zig-zags against a rainbow-hued background. Stare long enough, and different sections appear to move left and right. In another gallery, wavy horizontal black lines create the illusion of three-dimensional shapes protruding from the walls. Altogether, the exhibition is an optical treat.
Comte’s colorful creations are temporary: As soon as her show closes, the gallery will transition back into a traditional white cube. This ephemerality is particularly enticing to American artist
, who works in a similar mode. “A site-specific wall drawing cannot be moved, and the wall drawings that I make cannot be owned,” she wrote via email. Through next fall, her wall drawing Let’s get lost (2018) will be on view at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. In the show, black lines feather out against the rounded gallery walls, curving and occasionally thickening as they bump into one another.
While Comte and Meyers rely on their wall work to captivate audiences, American artist
has used it as a backdrop for canvas-bound paintings. For a 2018 show at Lumber Room in Portland, Oregon, Dancy included brushy, black-and-white paintings of nude female figures in natural settings. The show also included a neon sign that read “Self Seed” (also the exhibition title) in purple lettering against a curvy, lightning bolt–like shape. The women that populate Dancy’s work often appear more mythical than specific or contemporary, and here, they are present in grayscale on an entire gallery wall. Their bodies repeat and careen into one another against a lightly sketched ocean and a shadowy, bird-filled sky.