Nancy Graves: Synecdoche, 2013
Text by Kelsey Halliday Johnson
76 pages, Softcover
Published by Locks Art Publications
ISBN: 978-1-879173-87-3

In Synecdoche, a collection of rarely seen works from the late 1970s were collected for an exhibition and publication. This publication examines a unique period of gestural abstractions in greater depth-work that expands on explorations of perception and visual representation central to Graves's art. During the earlier half of the decade, Graves strayed from the dominant Conceptual, Minimal, and Pop Art movements and devoted her studio practice to visual research of scientific imaging. Based on a rigorous exploration of satellite maps, lunar photography, animal motion studies, fossils, and scientific illustrations, she quickly moved towards her own signature abstract language over the course of the decade. Within the few exhibitions these pieces appeared at during her lifetime, two of the paintings in her Lunar Orbiter Series from this period were exhibited at Documenta 6 in 1977. Synecdoche offers an opportunity to examine others in the series for the first time in decades, alongside her accompanying prints and drawings. The two-dimensional works in Synecdoche represent a calligraphic exploration of these spatial abstractions; this nonrepresentational vocabulary would soon complicate itself into her densely layered works of the 1980s. In the 1977 etching series from which the show is titled, Graves reinterpreted her own 1972 lithograph series based on lunar maps that she translated into abstract pointillism. Referencing both her own work and the scientific image culture she immersed herself in, Graves explored our own perception of images and the world around us. Hailed by critics as subversive when she first exhibited her large life-like camels in the late '60s, Graves would later respond that the subversion in her work was "only an effort to change the way in which we see". Graves was a prolific artist, moving fluidly between 2D, 3D, and time-based works. Most notably, she was the youngest woman to receive a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1969.