Color Me Bored / Color Me Glad
Colored Pencil at KS Arts; Lori Bookstein’s stable

Gallery-trippers addicted to recreational depression can get their fix at KS Arts. Sixty nine colored pencil drawings are hung delicatessen style to fit as many names as possible. A scattering of good things struggles to assert itself in the face of militant banality.

"Fictional Antiquities" by Stephen Talasnik

Thomas Nozkowksi and Red Grooms lend tone to the event. Grooms puts pencil to work with trademark intensity but his raucous, hard-boiled humor gets lost in the clutter. Nozkowski’s quirky elegance hangs over head to make room for dirty drawings at eye level.

Philip Knoll draws the short straw for winsome indecency. Priapic little fellows, sweetly outlined in pale yellow, frolic across a tender pink ground, penetrating each other’s various orifices. Knoll is a careful draftsman with an imagination stalled in the promiscuity that inspired—and killed—Keith Haring. Mr. Knoll’s deceptively childlike daisy chain needs a surgeon general’s warning.

Colored pencil encourages doodling. Grab a ready-made spectrum and have at it. May a thousand cartoons bloom. And so they do, some of them quite clever. Elliott Green is inventive and draws with a firm hand. But to signal that this is a put-on, he surrounds his improvisation with a cheesy faux-gilt frame. A finger in the eye to you, dear viewer.

There is more that one way to batter an audience. Jim Shaw does it by smacking a four-figure price tag onto spidery musings across a paper napkin. Polly Apfelbaum does it with a quartet of listless scratchings that pretend to orphic significance. Sara Jessie Kane pins hers haphazardry to the wall, much the way her mother, with pride and wonder, used to hang her stuff on the refrigerator.

Un-art is a genre you can bypass without second-guessing yourself. Bad art well executed is more misleading. The pointless virtuosity of Mark Greenwold and Julia Randall illustrates the distinction between technical knowledge and a raison d’etre worth the effort of technique.

Mr. Greenwold’s “Lucy” serves up three sour portraits in a hermetic interior. Over each disagreeable head hovers a penciled proxy for a comic book dialogue balloon. The device implies an intended narrative (complaint, probably) rendered mute by the vapidity of the caricature. Ms. Randall combines fastidious technique with arbitrary sight-gags. A large bird, perched on a perfume bottle atomizer, is limned in sensitive detail. Instead of a head, the body ends in a grotesque mouth blowing a saliva bubble. Think Audubon on crystal meth. Both artists, like others on show, beckon to spectators high on free-associative dead ends.

Watch for Sid Garrison’s sensuous abstraction, Susan Jennings’ delicate study of wood grain and Mark Grotjahn geometric designs converging on a strict axis. Add to these Stephen Talasnik’s “Fictional Antiquities” (2002). Using sanguine on heavily worked paper, he exploits the character of pencil with admirable elán, creating something distinctive and beguiling.

On balance, color me bored.


A very different kind of ensemble hangs at Lori Bookstein Fine Art. The gallery debuted in new midtown digs with a sampling of its contemporary stable plus a selection of earlier modernists. With only one piece from each artist, a certain staccato quality to the installation is inevitable. But that is okay in a tasting menu that gives you the flavor of the house. The exhibition coheres around the gallery’s commitment to American painting . Special emphasis is on American modernism and the legacy of Hans Hofmann. Expect fine color handling in a variety of idioms, from traditional to abstract.

Ken Kewley; from "Dressing Room" series

The Hofmann connection is handsomely represented by Paul Resika, Jan Müller, Bob Thompson and Aristodimos Kaldis. Robert De Niro, Sr., the least substantial of the group, is also aboard. Louis Finkelstein and Walter Buckner are pleasurable companions, each using color to arrive at their own species of pictorial space. Ignoring chromatic range in favor of the tonal satisfactions of the gray scale are Susannah Phillips and Gerald Auten.

Before Hofmann there was Arthur B. Carles, one of the most dynamic of the elder American modernists. “Landscape through a Window” (c. 1908-12), is too small and too early to convey the excitement and character of his achievement. Still, be glad the gallery has access to his work and, presumably, will exhibit more of it. Marsden Hartley, Alfred Maurer and Ralph Albert Blakelock, possibly the most imitated (and forged) of all American painters, are also on view.

Arnold Friedman is not exhibited often enough. There is a strange poetry to his painting that comes from modesty before his motifs in tension with a distinguished color sense and deliberated brushwork. His “Woman in a Brown Dress” (c. 1930-32), a subtle harmony of browns and greens, is a pleasure to find.

This is not the place for tracking the batting averages of art stars. Gallery preferences tend toward gifted practioners who keep producing and perfecting their craft without regard to fashion. And without looking over their shoulders to see which names are gaining on them. Sculptors Louise Kruger and Bruce Gagnier are among these. Ms. Kruger, once apprenticed to a ship builder, combines command of joinery with a keen sense of form. Her tulip wood “Figure of Man,” rounded like a ripe seed pod, is a whimsical complement to Bruce Gagnier’s unsettling “Otoma,” whose stressed musculature is weighted with anxiety.

Do not miss the three collagists. Ken Kewley, a vivacious colorist, abstracts from visual experience with a scope greater than his miniature format suggests. Henry Rothman and Janet Malcolm are more cerebral, constructing illusory space out of abstract elements. Each one, in quite different ways, achieves a spatial cohesiveness that is deeply gratifying.


“Colored Pencil” at KS Art (73 Leonard Street, 212.219.1489).

“Group Show 2004” at Lori Bookstein Fine Art (37 West 57 Street, 212.750.0949).

A version of this review appeared in The New York Sun, April 29, 2004.

©2004 Maureen Mullarkey

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