The Mitchell Algus gallery presents an exhibition of paintings made between 1968 and 2011 by Leonard Contino opening on Sunday June 14 and continuing through Sunday July 26, 2015.
Unknown outside of a small group of artist friends and supporters that includes Mark di Suvero, James Clark and Frosty Myers, Lenny Contino has been making geometric abstract paintings at his home in South Ozone Park Queens for over fifty years. Rarely seen in New York galleries, Contino’s paintings received occasional exposure at venues such as the Green, Park Place and Paula Cooper Galleries in the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as a one-person show at the Janie C. Lee Gallery in Houston, TX in 1978. (Barbara Rose, who wrote the catalog essay for the Janie C. Lee show, also included Contino paintings in two survey shows she curated for the Andre Emmerich Galley.) More recently, the artist’s paintings were shown at the Cue Art Foundation in an exhibition curated by Mark di Suvero. The current exhibition, including paintings from the 1960s to the present, is Leonard Contino’s first one-person show in a New York gallery.
Leonard Contino’s is a unique New York story. In 1962, at the age of 19, he suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a diving accident that left him a quadriplegic. While receiving rehabilitative care at NYU’s Rusk Institute Lenny was befriended by Mark di Suvero, who was himself recovering from life-threatening injuries sustained in a construction accident. di Suvero encouraged his new friend’s interest in art –as a teenager Lenny was involved in pinstriping cars–and set a ecstatic example by his unbridled energy and enthusiasm for art. Using a brace for support, Lenny taught himself to paint and began to produce complex hard-edge geometric abstractions, informed by his personal experience, but also reflecting the collective interests of his new Park Place friends.
In the years that followed Lenny Contino has filled his Queens home with hundreds of paintings, reliefs and sculptures in several distinct and ongoing series. His first geometric abstractions were complex compositions of concentric polygons painted in bright opaque colors. These expanded into shaped canvases with linear extensions carrying their forms beyond the limits of the rectangle. In the 1970s Contino began to use muted but radiant color in designs that evoked the spiritual energy of Native American and Egyptian art. Building on the subtle atmospheric space of these paintings, Contino adapted more whimsical, vaguely biomorphic, forms, deploying them in highly orchestrated compositions. His “floaters” paintings, several of which are included in the current show, are rigorous assemblages of geometric and linear forms suspended in soft color fields. Exhibited here as well are several large black and white paintings that strip Contino’s vocabulary to the basics while adding an extraordinary spatial complexity.
The Mitchell Algus Gallery is open noon to 6pm, Wednesday through Sunday.