As one of the few Chinese-American artists working in New York City during the 1960s and 70s, David Diao was an active member of the local artistic communities that flourished there during those decades. His work responds to the theories and motivations developed by the Abstract Expressionists, building upon the elemental impact that could be achieved through the use of pure colour. This work demonstrates Diao’s virtuosic control of color; in the fall of 2015 the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art organized a large retrospective of Diao’s work, which included a similar abstract piece of Diao’s from the early 70s (Wealth of Nations, 1972).
Born in Chengdu, Diao immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, where he continues to live and work today. During the period during which The Finished Edge was created, Diao recalls collecting cardboard tubes discarded by garment and fabric factories near his studio in Soho, and then flattening and using them to apply paint to canvas in lieu of brushes. This simple act not only provided the young artist with a free and plentiful source of painting materials, but it also served to subvert the concept of the artist’s brushstroke, which reigned supreme at the time. Multiple layers of paint would be applied to the canvas in this way, building up depth and a resonant richness of color.
The influence of Barnett Newman, whom Diao frequently cites as one of his artistic role models, can be clearly seen in this bilaterally split composition. Yellow is pitted against blue, yet shared undercurrents of green bring harmony to the two halves of the canvas. Diao’s contemporaries, which included Rothko, Newman and Gottlieb, famously believed in the formal purity of abstract art, and disliked attempts to explain or deconstruct their work with contextual analysis. The Finished Edge behaves in a similar manner – it’s simple composition invites closer observation of texture and colour, encouraging profound contemplation of the sublime.