Timothy App

(Akron, Ohio, 1947 - )


Akron-born artist Timothy App has described his early childhood this way: “It was a stern upper middle class suburban rearing, hardened by a strict Catholic education. As a child, I took classes at the Akron Art Museum as an escape. Passionately interested in history, I illustrated all of the battles of the Civil War by age ten. Also, I dabbled in painting as a young teenager, but largely because my girlfriend liked to paint.” Despite these activities, it was not for some time that App thought of art as a possible vocation. Still, both precocious creativity and the foundations for his later career emerged early on: “It seems I have always had a propensity for logical ways of dividing form and space… at age twelve, I took mechanical drawing lessons from an engineering student in the neighborhood. This interest continued through high school. At that time, while I considered becoming an architect, never did I think this predilection for precision and logical systems had anything to do with art.” When App was sent to a rigorous Jesuit boarding school in Wisconsin at the age of fourteen, it was a teacher there who connected the dots and encouraged him to “take art seriously.” Visits to the nearby Art Institute of Chicago provided further inspiration. After circumventing the objections that his parents raised against the possibility of a career in art, App entered Kent State University as an art student. There, his mentor (and the former director of the Akron Art Institute) Leroy Flint was crucial in shaping his college experience. In tribute to Flint, App has written that “As a brilliant and wise college professor, he taught me, with great aplomb, to think and see simultaneously, and moreover to believe in myself as an artist. His sagacity stays with me to this day.” The Akron Art Museum itself also continued to play a formative role in App’s emergence as an artist. For example: “in 1966 I saw firsthand the work of George Ortman in a traveling solo exhibition at the Akron Art Museum. His work showed me the way towards a kind of painting that was both painted and constructed.” Experiences like this one built on App’s tendency towards a logical approach to art making, and that sensibility led him to take Minimalism as a jumping off point early in his career. After graduating from KSU in 1970, App worked as an art teacher at Old Trail School in Akron. He then continued his education by enrolling at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1972. While there he worked with Richard Cramer, whom he describes as “a colorist of the highest order. He encouraged me to open up my palette and explore the infinite possibilities of expansive color mixing.” During the same period App also drew inspiration from a lecture by Agnes Martin, and he later visited her home in New Mexico on several occasions while living in that state. Next, he moved to Claremont, California in 1974 to teach at Pomona College. In 1978, his friend and fellow Claremont painter Karl Benjamin included some of App’s paintings in a group show near L.A., putting his work alongside examples from some of the region’s leading artists. App credits this exposure as crucial in building his career. App left Pomona for the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 1977. Finally, he moved on to the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1990, teaching there until his retirement in 2019. In describing the process of creating works of art, App has noted that “‘Without the physical manifestation of an idea through the properties of the medium, one really has nothing.” Following this observation, Richard Shiff writes that “Some artists (including App) use a medium to shape an emerging idea or even discover the idea in the first place—generating an idea through the medium.” This open-ended, materially-focused approach, combined with App’s logical “aesthetics of precision,” leads Shiff to dub the artist a “constructor.” Over the course of his career, App has exercised his ambition for experimentation and construction through abstraction in a variety of series. The retrospective exhibition Timothy App: The Aesthetics of Precision, Forty-Five Years of Painting was organized around a number of distinct phases. First, Specific Objects—shaped canvases and wood constructions from the late 1960s, inspired by Minimalism. Next, Element Paintings, Woven Grid Paintings, and Voyage Paintings—works featuring arrays of simple, brightly-colored, and repeating geometric shapes, made in the early 1970s. Then, in the mid ‘70s, Ascent Paintings, Zone Paintings, and Variegated Field Paintings—canvases featuring vertical and horizontal divisions which respond the each work’s particular format. Through the late ‘70s and the ‘80s came the Jaoquin Paintings, Vessel Paintings, and Shaped Paintings, in which App moved towards freer experimentation with color, either through rough textures or carefully controlled low contrasts. Finally, from the 1990s onward, there are the Black Paintings, Multiform Paintings, Homage Paintings, and Threshold Paintings, all made with a combination of extremely reserved color and carefully balanced geometric compositions. Each of these different approaches to abstraction can appear simple, but each proves to provide expansive possibilities for visual experience that can be inspirational in their richness and depth. As Lilly Wei puts it, “App is in search of aesthetic transparency and painterly honesty, not simply as ends in themselves, but as pointers toward broader truths, towards the revelatory.”

Baltimore, Maryland

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