Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art is pleased to present Yale-educated, Wyoming-based artist Chris Pfister’s The Monochromes. Pfister’s works present the interconnectedness of historic moments, past and present, through images set at the crossroads of memory, photography, and painting.

The latest body of work, a collection of oil paintings executed in selective palettes of grey, sepia, and black and white responds to the continual accumulation of discarded images, found objects, news footage, snapshots, and archaeological records.

Pfister brings importance to these often fleeting images and inserts them back into the present, though they echo the past. The narrative paintings question how we see and remember people, things, and landscapes.

Addressing the coexistence of photography and painting in a digitized world of instant images, these works enact the history of oil paint on canvas and recognize the time it takes to make and appreciate paintings.  

In a careful process, Pfister hand-makes all of his paints and mediums in studio from raw pigments, adding unique dimension to his works.

The Monochromes will be on view through November 20, 2015.

CHRIS PFISTER   Big Dry Landscape   Oil on canvas   2014   48" x 60" (121.9 x 152.4 cm) 
CHRIS PFISTER   Elder   Oil on canvas   2013   20" x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
CHRIS PFISTER   Giraffe   Oil on canvas   2014-15   60" x 48" (152.4 x 121.9 cm)
CHRIS PFISTER   Picnic   Oil on canvas   2013   14" x 18" (35.6 x 45.7 cm)

Click here to view the exhibition online.

Click here to view Chris Pfister's artist page and works available.


Influential British Pop artist David Hockney (b. 1937) first moved to southern California in the early 1960s. Since then, he has gradually adjusted his focus from object-based art to, among other works, experimental landscapes such as Road to Palm Springs.
Road to Palm Springs is remarkable not just for its paint, but for its absence of paint. Hockney has mastered the dematerialized watercolor. Traditional landscapes of the 19thcentury used tight brushwork and copious amounts of heavy, dark oil paints to create the sensation of solidity, of monumentality. Hockney, on the other hand, seems to know the minimum amount of paint needed to create a visual presence, and he has pared down this image to that point. The airy forms and bright splashes of color replicate the heat of a summer day in the desert. Certain objects—the white truck, the backdrop of sky—are nothing more than blank paper, examples of Hockney’s seductive simplicity. His style is an updated Impressionism, exploring perception while tackling modern subject matter: the landscape of freeways and windmills. What we see here is a landscape, but it is also art about art, a painting self-consciously pushing the limits of representation in classic Hockney fashion.
Road to Palm Springs is part of our current exhibition Important Works on Paper.
Click here to see available works by the artist.

Road to Palm Springs
Watercolor on two sheets of paper
Sheet: 18″ x 48-1/4″ / 45.7 x 122.6 cm
© 2003, David Hockney

Installation shot of Hockney's Road to Palm Springs

Hockney's Road to Palm Springs cropped

Hockney's Road to Palm Springs framed and installed

Closeup left of Hockney's Road to Palm Springs

Closeup right of Hockney's Road to Palm Springs


To continue our discussion on landscapes, we focus our attention to Wayne Thiebaud's Mountain Clouds. The first thing that grabs you about the work is the unusual perspective. Most landscapes separate sky and ground with a horizon line, but Mountain Clouds does not. Instead, sky and mountain are all we can see, and the vertical, rather than the horizontal, is emphasized. Thiebaud foregrounds the mountain over a backdrop of matte blue sky, dotted with soft clouds. He makes the mountain the subject of a portrait, not just an inanimate chunk of earth. 

Closer inspection reveals that Thiebaud’s process is just as clever as his perspective. Since the 1960s, Thiebaud, always an experimenter, has occasionally adapted examples of his graphic work into paintings, drawing inspiration from Chinese landscape art as well as his fertile imagination and his Pop art roots. Here, he revisited a 1964 black etching depicting a mountain in the Sacramento Valley, where he lives. He partially covered its intricate lines and cross-hatching with carefully manipulated fields of watercolor, and created a cloud-filled sky in the etching’s original void. After Morris Louis, Thiebaud has employed the “stain” method of color field painting, which emphasizes the overall effects of color. However, unlike Louis’ images, Thiebaud’s works are representational, blending the hue-play of abstraction with the poignancy of real life captured on paper.

WAYNE THIEBAUD   Mountain Clouds  1964/1986   Watercolor over hard-ground and drypoint etching   
Sheet: 15" x 11" (38.1 x 27.9 cm)   Image: 7" x 5-3/8" (17.8 x 13.7 cm)   
© 2015, Wayne Thiebaud / VAGA Rights, New York

Mountain Clouds is on view as part of our current exhibition entitled Important Works on Paper

Please click here for more information and to view available artworks.


JEAN DUBUFFET   Vache aux Deux Arbres   July 1943  
Oil on paper   9-3/4" x 6-1/2" (25 x 16.5 cm)   
© 2015, Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Landscape paintings are paradoxical. They do not depict us, but they are about us. They show us how we see the world—and call into question what that perception says about our cultures, our emotions, and our ideas about images themselves. 

In a unique twist on landscape painting, Dubuffet refigures the French countryside into avant-garde art brut in Vache aux Deux Arbres. 

During the month of July 1943, Jean Dubuffet (1901 – 1985) and his wife Lili left Paris for a bicycling tour of the French countryside. The young artist stopped frequently along the way, capturing what he saw with a child’s gouache paint set and an album of artist’s paper. He later adapted much of this sketch series into larger works for his shocking debut exhibition at Galerie RenĂ© Drouin, Paris in 1944. This painting, from that bicycle trip sketchbook, shows a cow grazing in front of two trees.

Dubuffet transforms the idyllic scene in a revolutionary way. The work deliberately lacks scale. The cow looks at least half as tall as the trees, and all of the objects seem to float around rather than being grounded in perspectival space. Simplified and flattened, the image subjects, while they resemble real elements of a landscape, seem to be symbolic: Dubuffet shows us the idea of a cow, trees, and a field rather than visual reproductions of those things, employing thick outlines and simple coloration to striking and unusual effect. Dubuffet, inspired by Jean Fautrier’s rudimentary flatness, undoes the idealization of the European landscape. The bright green and blue hues express the joy of a summer day, while the deliberately crude figuration of the countryside is one of the earliest examples of what would become Dubuffet’s signature style, art brut.

Not as childlike as it appears, Dubuffet’s art brut was in fact a bold, complex political protest, an atavistic response to the cruelty of WWII. Dubuffet believed the legitimacy of academic realism (a style he mastered at an early age) had been shattered by the war, that art had to be reinvented along with the universe it depicted. He and others—including Paul Klee and Max Ernst—turned to the art of the mentally ill for inspiration. A foray into the aesthetic these artists would create, Vache aux Deux Arbres gives us a fascinating glimpse at the psychology of a painter in transition from academic youth to avant-garde maturity, and at the roots of post-war art.

Vache aux Deux Arbres is part of our current exhibition Important Works on Paper.

Visit to see available works by the artist.