Dec 31, 2016

Artists That Gained Critical Acclaim Later in Life

These artists continue to push the boundaries of contemporary painting in their later years. For them, it seems the art world has finally woken up.
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The contemporary art world is filled with artists recognised at seemingly younger and younger ages. There are those artists though for whom critical acclaim and recognition of their work comes much later in life. For artists David Diao (b. 1943), Peter Dreher (b. 1932) and Etel Adnan (b. 1925), the art world is finally recognising just how important their work is.

Etel Adnan (b. 1925 Beirut, Lebanon. Lives and works in Paris)

As an artist, Etel Adnan is as multi-faceted as we have ever come across. Born in Beirut in 1925, she’s devoted her life to writing poems, plays, novels and essays whilst at the same time making films, drawings, paintings and tapestries. See also speaks 5 languages.

A former philosophy teacher, author and journalist, Etel’s big-break as an artist came in 2012, at the age of 87, when her semi-abstract landscape paintings gained critical acclaim in the quinquennial contemporary art exhibition dOCUMENTA 13. A number of exhibitions followed, as did acclaim from well-respected figures in the art world like Hans Ulrich Obrist, who named her ‘one of the most influential artists of the 21st century.’ Her inclusion as the oldest artist in the revered publication Vitamin P3, which covers new contemporary artists contributing towards the progression of contemporary painting, shows her growing reputation.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her many talents though is the dichotomy that exists between them. Her writings are routed in politics and war, while her painting strives for beauty and serenity. This contrast is summarized well in her Paris apartment, where workstations for painting and writing sit at opposing ends of the room.

Now 91 years old, she is represented by prestigious galleries Sfeir-Semler and Galerie Lelong.

Represented by Sfeir-Semler

David Diao (b. 1943 Chengdu, China. Lives and works in New York)

After fleeing his native China during the revolution in 1949, David Diao spent time as a young child in Hong Kong before arriving in New York in 1955.

His work has moved from pure abstraction during the 60s to more conceptual work confronting such issues as politics, identity and his fascination with modernism. During his early period he heavily referenced such giants as Barnett Newman, Kazimir Malevich and Robert Motherwell.

‘I came to this notion that I am actually very Chinese in the sense that my art is so citational; it acknowledges the past and what is interesting is that some of the people I reference from the Western canon such as Malevich and Newman, are perfect examples of Western avant-garde thinking of destroying the past: that you don’t move ahead unless you begin at ground zero. The idea of beginning at ground zero is a kind of utopic impossibility. In my case, I am part of, came before or… I move forward on the shoulders of those who came before me.’

It is a little known fact that his work was actually included in the first ever Whitney Biennale in 1973. The fact that he also participated in the Whitney Biennial in 2014 and had a major retrospective at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art shows both Diao’s longevity and also the current high level of interest in his work.

Represented by Office Baroque

Peter Dreher (b. 1932 Mannheim, Germany. Lives and works in Wittnau, Germany)

For Peter Dreher, the passing of time only furthers the critical acclaim of his magnum opus “Tag um Tag gutter Tag (Day by Good Day).” Covered in detail in our previous article on the artist, Peter Dreher has painted the same glass over 5,000 times: 2,500 times at night and 2,500 times in the day. It’s a series that started in 1974 and continues to develop tag um tag gutter tag.

‘I had the idea to paint the most simple thing I could imagine. Before that I painted large, grey paintings, which showed a sort of optical illusion. And what is more simple than to take something usual, like a glass – I mean, something invisible – and place it on a white table before white walls, a white, white glass. I had the idea to paint it five or six times. I did one, two, three, then five, then seven, then 10, then 100. I couldn’t stop, and it became fascinating. I think the whole history of art—no, let’s say the history of the problems in painting—came to me.’

As a master tonalist it is his ability to paint realistic objects with a twist of abstraction that has garnered praise. In a sense, this summarises his series perfectly – realist art that over time, through repetition, takes on abstract and conceptual form.

Far from a laborious or restrictive task, he sees each painting of the glass as a celebration of painting itself.

‘I ask myself every day if it still has sense to do this. The day I must say to myself, "No, it’s not necessary, there’s no more sense in it," I’ll stop it. But now, I’ll do it as long as I can, as long as I can paint. As long as I live.’

Represented by Koenig & Clinton