White Columns

Project Room Doris Staffel organized by Annabeth Marks

White Columns is proud to present an exhibition of work by the Philadelphia based artist Doris Staffel (1921-2013), the exhibition has been organized by the artist’s granddaughter Annabeth Marks. A prolific artist with an extensive exhibition history and long academic career, the exhibition focuses on Staffel’s works on paper made when the artist was in her late 80s. This will be the first solo exhibition of Staffel’s work in New York.

Distinction between me and the bird and the grass - is really not a concrete one and we are essentially the same thing. - Doris Staffel  

Doris wrote this in a notebook from 1973, the book was To Contain - Ideas, Comments, Insights (hopefully) - Pertaining to Painting and Buddhist Studies. This book has been sitting on my shelf for the last two years, and in revisiting it for this show, Doris's ​written ​thoughts about her work highlight her central belief in the fluidity of forms. This thread in her work originated in her studies of Tibetan Buddhism and I believe manifests itself most strongly in the work she made in her late 80s.

Doris began studying Buddhism in 1968, and in 1975 she went to the Naropa Institute in Colorado to study Buddhist Iconography. She was an early student of the Tibetan Buddhist master Dudjom Rinpoche, and was an active member of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center in Philadelphia. At the time that she was writing in her 1973 notebook Doris had been making paintings based on the Lotus Throne Thangka paintings; they are very still, iconographic and symbolic. She wrote, My work of last year - static - too much that and this - too much separation. She went on to say, the part (in detail) standing for the whole.  See if I can get the feeling of creating a universe and distilling only part of it before it dissolves again.  

Following this body of work, Doris’ subsequent paintings became more process oriented, and contain a sense of constant motion and change, forms merge and shift, they are fluid. In 1996, Doris switched from working on canvas to paper and board. An openness developed, allowing for an abundance of forms, a profusion of work, and a relentlessness in the way that she worked through persistent elements. Marks take on different identities over and over. The gesture is always ordered, contained or registered against another element within the composition, whether it is the edge of the paper, vertical or horizontal lines, or solid clear shapes.  

In these small square and rectangular paintings I can see movement happening between and through each work.  Her color is weighed and rhythmic, forms emerge from linear spaces, lines register as energy, things press into and tumble out of each other.  It is in this later work I most clearly see a disbelief in the boundaries between things: birds, grass, bodies, architecture, the natural and unnatural world."

 -Annabeth Marks, 2016


Doris Staffel (b. 1921 Brooklyn, NY)  received her BFA in 1944 from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. In 1946 she received her MA at the University of Iowa where she studied with Philip Guston.  After receiving her Masters she moved to Queens. She made a living designing and producing silkscreen scarves with three friends on the Bowery. In her free time she attended Hans Hoffman’s painting reviews. In 1948 she moved to Philadelphia with her husband Rudolf Staffel, a ceramist. She taught at the University of the Arts ( Philadelphia College of Art) from 1957-1990. She was a member of Group 55 (later the Philadelphia Abstract Artists).  Her work was exhibited widely in numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. She exhibited in Philadelphia with Gross McCleaf Gallery, Jessica Berwind Gallery, and Richard Rosenfeld Gallery.  Her work is in many private and public collections, including The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Woodmere Art Museum, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Butler Institute of American Art, Bryn Mawr College, the Asheville Art Museum, and the Arkansas Art Center.

Annabeth Marks (b.1986 Rochester, NY) received her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and is currently an MFA candidate from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts.  Recent exhibitions include a collaboration between Marks and Eckhaus Latta at Moma PS1’s Greater New York Exhibition, and Anthem of the Sun at Canada Gallery.  Her work has been exhibited at Rachel Uffner Gallery, Culture Room, US Blues in New York, New Gallery, Houston TX, RK Projects in Providence RI, among others. She has been the recipient of the Ellen Batell Stoeckel Fellowship and the Florence Leif Award for Female Painters.

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Doris Staffel Press Release