Rising to the Surface: Paintings by Debbie Ma
September 28 – December 21, 2023
Debbie Ma’s abstract paintings are marked by their sense of order, balance, and a surface dynamism informed by her studies in graphic design and inspired by a cross-section of modern masters. Her use of white and its variants evoke ancient walls and sculptures, Italian frescoes, as well as paintings by American Minimalist Robert Ryman and Spanish artist Miquel Barceló. Ma’s choice of materials, such as her signature medium of marble dust, lends her paintings a reflective quality, sculptural effect, and, as in Antoni Tàpies’s later works, a sense of “meditative emptiness.” Ma notes how “Working with stone, albeit in powder form, demands the same physicality as carving. I always describe my paintings as two-dimensional sculptures because a lot of effort is made to create volume and thickness.”
Ma speaks many languages and filters them into her work, which is both varied and consistent, preoccupied as she is with materials and their surprising effects. There are Cy Twombly-like marks, calligraphic jottings, and Jackson Pollock–evoking gestures and layering. She says she is fascinated with grids (but not too tightly administered) and can’t resist patterning and surface textures. Her use of geometry suggests how we view and measure what we see.
Surprisingly, having long worked mostly in monochrome, Ma has recently been experimenting with colors in her works, many with a sculptural impasto appearance where light, texture, and complimentary tones on paper produce an unexpected degree of spontaneity.
Image: Debbie Ma, American (born 1967), Social Fabric, 2019, marble dust on canvas, 72 x 90 in. (182 x 328 cm) © Debbie Ma.