Over the course of five decades, the American artist Channa Horwitz (1932–2013) produced a body of primarily graphic work that evades stylistic categories. While employing the seriality and repetition associated with Minimalism, her drawings are, at the same time, lush, intimate, and idiosyncratic.
Trained as a painter at Cal State Northridge, Horwitz dropped out of school in the mid-1960s. It was then that she devised her first mathematically based compositions, working on index cards before adopting graph paper as her primary support. This became the ground for the systematized arrangements of geometric shapes that would occupy her for the rest of her career.
“Counting in Eight, Moving by Color,” the most comprehensive retrospective of Horwitz’s art to date, presented the gamut of her production, from early diagrams of the fictional house of Mr. and Mrs. McGillicutty—her first foray into abstraction—to late works like her “Rhythm of Lines” series (1987–88), which features interpenetrating parallelograms rendered in gold leaf and pastel-colored inks.
The largest series of drawings here deploys a system of notation based on the numbers one through eight, with each number assigned a color. As visual objects, they call to mind Native American textiles, punch cards, and even DNA sequences, but they function as scores, indicating movement, sound, intensity, and rhythm. Other artists have translated the code into sheet music or choreography—slides from one dance performance were on view. Distancing these works from the playful scores of Fluxus, Horwitz called this pseudo-scientific endeavor “Sonakinatography.”
Approaching Horwitz’s drawings means deciding between two modes of viewing: either undertaking the often tedious task of reconstructing their logic, or simply losing oneself in patterns whose rationality seems always on the verge of total breakdown.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 108.