new paintings | paintings | vellum

counterpoint | of two minds | artpresence | art press


craig fisher
| david cohen - / the new york sun

when dia:beacon 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 historic beat.

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 and individuality.

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.

another lesser-known 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.

© david cohen