opened last year, michael kimmelman of the new york times announced
that minimalism, not abstract expressionism, provided america's
"greatest generation". on the evidence of the kind of
art favored by museums, where the monumental, serial, standardized
and reductive never lose their appeal, he may have had a point,
but where painting is concerned, he was dead wrong.
it is staggering,
in fact, how much life is left in the revolution that took place
in greenwich village in the 1940s and 1950s. without making extravagant
claims for "our generation", there is truly a renaissance
of abstract painting underway in new york today, with figures like
thomas nozkowski, terry winters, melissa meyer, and bill jensen
at the helm.
craig fisher belongs
in this company: his art directly takes up the challenge of the
first generation new york school , engaging adolph gottlieb, late
de kooning and classic hans hofmann in eloquent dialogue. with freshness
and verve, however, he is unmistakably grounded in the present.
he stands apart from the abstract expressionists in his determinedly
decentered and anti-compositional approach, yet the rythms of these
masters flow through his own paintings without seeming to miss a
no throwback to
older styles, it is a form of minimalism that saves him from looking
retro - minimalism, however, in a european rather than american
incarnation. with his contemporaries, the painters joe fyfe and
james hyde, mr. fisher constitutes the "french connection"
in current new york painting, taking creative impetus from the "support-surface"
movement of the 1970s. each of these younger american painters is
obsessed with the semiotics of surface, but without capitulating
to dry reductivism. each, in his way, lubricates an intellectual
interrogation of the language of painting with personal quirkiness
mr. fisher's is
an art of cool, sparse, isolated, yet somehow heartfelt expressivity.
the overriding impression made by his canvases is of canvas itself:
the support is nonchalently left raw, with merely sporadic painterly
incident. you can almost believe they have been hung the wrong way
round: nebulous forms and staining make it seem as if a more boisterous,
resolved composition, flipped against the wall, is going to waste.
his favored support
is the back side of a failed, or abandoned canvas, or better still,
as in the case "crop-drop painting," (1999), the earliest
and largest painting on show, the drop cloth he had placed underneath
other canvases while being worked on the floor. unwilled texture
is generated by paint seeping through from one canvas to another.
such calculated impersonality might smack of "process art"
of the 1970s, which in its turn took its cue from the dada anti-creativity
of duchamp with his aesthetics of chance.
but mr. fisher
is not a process artist *per se* because this penchant for the accidental
isn't a programmatic or declared modus operandi that constitutes
an element of the work. despite the disperateness and infrequency
of his, marks and gestures, and their obstinately unorchestrated
nature, his effects nonetheless behave in each other's company with
unfailing grace. but still, his strategies will strike many as an
"arty" way of deconstructing purposiveness in painting.
knowing what future paintings are going to need by way of "chance
effects" must make this artist supremely self-conscious as
a dropper and spiller of paint.
the recent paintings in this show, from 2003, introduce an element
of color absent in his earlier work, suggesting a radical departure.
his new preference is for acerbic, acid hues that heat up the canvases.
this new color adds a level of intentionality alien to the "readymade"
canvas colors and tastefully neutral shades that used to predominate,
as in the 1999 painting. but dissonant color actually introduces
a new kind of accidentalism to his art, as if so perverse a palette
could only have been stumbled upon by chance.
mr. fisher's show
forms a timely comparison with a raw canvas and stain painter of
a previous generation. there is a rare chance to see a group of
1950s paintings by friedel dzubas at jacobson howard, who recently
took on the estate of the german-born artist, who died in 1994.
through his friendship with clement greenberg, the formalist guru
of second generation abstract expressionism, dzubas became a studiomate
in the early 1950s of ms. frankenthaler's at the time of her breakthrough
"mountains and sea" series of stained paintings.
on first impression, dzubas relates closely to these paintings,
in palette and mood. but although staining, which is evident in
these works, would become a dominant aspect of his more familiar
color field painting, these early works have a gutsy impasto which
offsets the more ethereal effects of staining, offering a rich earthiness.
in a painting like "cyclop," (1959) there is a dynamic
relationship between autonomous gesture and described forms that
really gives the painting depth and punch.
figure of the postwar period who is enjoying some reconsideration
lately is angelo ippolito. earlier this year, he was the subject
of a generous retrospective at binghampton university, where he
had taught; now a small but illuminating representation of his output
can be seen at david findlay jr, a gallery who are making a speciality
of examining different members of the first of the greenwich village
cooperative galleries, the tanager, which was founded in 1952. other
members of this group included charles cajori, lois dodd, william
king, alex katz and, slightly later, philip pearlstein.
italian born (and trained) ippolito picked up scale and directness
from "the older guys", as he referred to de kooning and
pollock, but insisted on a cheery palette (comparable to mr. katz
of the early 1950s with its sweet pinks and oranges) and compositional
refinement that held his painting back from the roughness and robustness
of abstract expressionism. in this respect he is rather like the
spaniard vicente esteban, who also retained european painting manners
despite enthusiasm for "american type" painting.
in ippolito's case,
a love of landscape and a diehard traditionalism regarding pictorial
organization lead to some extraordinary partial returns to representation,
such as in the masterful "landscape with red table," (1972)
which pits a smooth, hard-edged, almost pop interior against neatly
delineated pockets of painterly exuberance.