Patricia Treib

I want a feeling of immediacy and simultaneity, as if all aspects of the work are happening at once. But I also want an underlying sense of structure.

Patricia Treib develops her paintings and watercolors from memories that she has experienced over time. She has said that she “registers the time of looking” when she begins a painting. Recalled glimpses of a cuffed hand from a Russian icon, an outline of a sleeve from a Pierro della Francesco painting, the contours of a 35mm camera, or the face of an old clock provide a catalyst.  A review in Artforum suggests “it is the act of translating these various found motifs into twirling abstract forms, flat shapes, and curvy silhouettes through gesture and color that constitute the basis of Treib’s art.”

Treib was born in 1979 in Saginaw, Michigan. As a young girl she spent many hours in her father’s clock repair shop watching him figure out the mechanics of clocks from different time periods: Kit-Cat clocks with moving eyes, cuckoo clocks, rare clocks from the 19th-century. “The shop was filled with antiques,” Treib fondly remembers in a BOMB magazine interview. “Looking back on it, his shop was my first experience of an artist’s studio. It was a place where he did what he loved, a workshop that was tactile and visual. I didn’t know any artists in Saginaw, so I think my father’s clock shop was my main model. ”Treib’s mother was an elementary school teacher. “I had a sewing machine, Treib recalls. “My mom did a lot of sewing—she taught me how to sew when I was little. My maternal grandmother owned a fabric shop and made my clothing when I was very young.”

Treib’s paintings are composed of slightly figurative abstract shapes brought to life through a personal language of references.  The shapes are placed against a neutral background with breathable spaces among them. In most of the paintings eccentric angular forms nestle together, recalling the activity of garment construction; this begins with laying out cut paper patterns on a flat piece of fabric. Treib’s reference to clothing extends to her painting titles: Cuff, Blouse, Hem, and Pleat, for example. In a January 2017 review of a solo exhibition at Bureau, Treib’s New York gallery, Roberta Smith of The New York Times observed, “The inspirations for Ms. Treib’s vocabulary range through East and West—particularly decorative flourishes that might be seen on textiles, ceramics or furniture” and “they include shapes that evoke accent marks, thought balloons or clothing patterns.”

Treib’s palette, like her motifs, is derived from memory. She doesn’t work with primary colors. Instead, she uses  the recalled feeling of colors she might have observed while traveling: a landscape from a Spanish village, parts of a Roman Fresco, fragments from Pompei or odd color combinations that startle. Her muted colors oscillate between pale and saturated; they are contrasting in hue yet close in value. Treib has described “color as one of the most important elements—it contributes to the animation of the forms.” The painting combinations of teal blues, grays and browns are reminiscent of another era; they evoke the aesthetics of the 1950s.

Treib’s surfaces of thinly applied paint strokes suggest swiftness and spontaneity. She renders a painting all in one sitting, but this finesse belies her long preparation or “rehearsing” before the final creation of a painting that is usually human scale. Treib also works continuously over time on many small watercolors. The approach allows her to play with contours and scale and experiment with space and with color relationships. A reviewer from The New Yorker describes her paintings this way: “The main quality is speed: outrunning references, overshooting interpretation. There’s a sense of designs long ruminated and executed all of a bang.”

Treib received her B.F.A. from the School of the Art Insitute of Chicago in 2001, and graduated with an M.F.A. from Columbia University in 2006, where she studied painting with Charlene von Heyl. In January, 2018, she completed her first project at Crown Point Press. Treib is represented by Bureau, New York; Galeria Marta Cervera, Madrid, Spain; and Kate MacGarry, London, UK. In addition to solo exhibitions in her galleries, Treib’s paintings have recently been exhibited in the 2018 Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York. In April 2020, Treib was named one of the Guggenheim Fellowship awardees. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

—Valerie Wade

  • Patricia Treib at Crown Point Press (2 minutes)

    Watch this video of the artist working in the Crown Point etching studio, 2018.

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