Paul Verdell in the studio
Photo by Kai Newby
Library Street Collective is pleased to present an exhibition with Detroit-based artist Paul Verdell, titled Forty Acres and opening Saturday, September 10th, 2022. Forty Acres highlights a new series of large-scale paintings on canvas accompanied by a collection of works on paper. Set against the stark white gallery walls, luminous and wild expanses of pigment highlight Verdell’s agility and proficiency with color, a foundation upon which his practice thrives.
Driven by intuition, Verdell’s latest body of work delves deep into the realm of abstraction as the artist explores capabilities of medium and mind. Much of Verdell’s work to date centers around distinguishable subjects, however, his newest creations are devoid of such matter and neglect the use of live observations or photographs to dictate the paintings’ development. This stylistic departure derives from Verdell’s engrossed concernment with the peripheral elements of his compositions, areas that are often imagined spontaneously, and how they materialize on the canvas. “When I was making these works,” he expresses, “the figures felt like they were taking up space from what I truly wanted to explore, which was paint. [This realization] made me feel excited to work, but also stressed because it signified a new area. It was like I was being exposed on the canvas. These works feel like I’m opening up to exploration pursuing a labor of love.”
Experimenting freely with gesture and application through a constant cycle of creation and modification, Verdell works mutually with paint and oil stick to allow his materials to reveal their desired form. Careful consideration is paid to different modes of approaching the support and the outcomes yielded: what happens when paint is applied softly versus forcefully, when it is built up in layers instead of applied in one pass, when marks are made slowly versus swiftly? The implications of these various impressions are the result of the artist’s ongoing attempt to understand himself within a shifting and uncertain world through the act of painting.
Verdell’s work has consistently been defined by loose and instinctive mark making; thus, the stylistic evolution demonstrated in Forty Acres proves a natural progression for the artist. Within the series, Verdell turns to personal—rather than interpersonal—intimacy as he relies on an internal discourse to guide the paintings’ creation. The works become renditions of landscapes both visually and figuratively as the colors and forms subtly echo horizons and map Verdell’s mental terrain. With this notion, Verdell reflects on the connotations that land carries in relation to Black American heritage. The exhibition’s title is an abbreviation of “forty acres and a mule,” the promise to Black people in America during the Reconstruction era of forty acres of land and a mule as a reparation for slavery. Having turned thirty-one this year, the decade ahead has Verdell considering his future more concretely; he explains how owning property or land, a space to cement himself as an artist and continue to make the work that he wants, is a predominant goal. Forty Acres symbolizes this ambition and marks a momentous turning point in Verdell’s career.
An exciting fall is on the horizon for the artist. Following the exhibition, Verdell is headed to Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal artist-in-residence program through which a collaborative environment will further fuel his creative exploration in a new context. Of this season’s sixteen selected artists, Verdell is one of just five from the United States; a recent interview between Verdell and Duante Beddingfield of the Detroit Free Press can be read in full here.
Fireworks After the Fourth, 2022
Oil on Canvas
72h x 96w in
Detail of Fireworks After the Fourth, 2022
Oil on Canvas
72h x 96w in