Watercolor at Kouros Gallery; An accidental
archive; A canvasser at home
by Carolyn Harris
August 6 to 22, 2003
END OF SEASON GROUP SHOWS are
a little like summer movies. They have the advantage
of setting out simply to please. In a category-loving art climate,
the last exhibition usually relaxes the categories. Works tend
to be smaller, allowing us to look at art scaled for actual
rooms, not museum spaces. Galleries are more willing to chance
work they are not committed to. The publicity machine gears
down. After months of generating operatic press releases, galleries
put their feet up and let items on the wall summon their own
Fine and surprising things surface in these closing medleys.
While this exhibition spares us the artificial labors of a "theme
show," its focus on a single medium—watercolor—
provides continuity among the disparate sensibilities and ranges
of ambition that are part of its appeal.
Most of the work on show is by members of Zeuxis, a loose affiliation
of artists devoted to still life painting. Many of them exhibit
regularly in artist-owned and/or university galleries. The better
known names—Garth Evans, Andrew Forge, Lois Dodd, Robert
DeNiro, Sr.—are on loan from other galleries. Three come
from Kouros' own stable of artists.
Things begin with two paintings by George Constant, an early
modernist best known in his lifetime as an etcher and engraver.
Here is a rare look at his gifts as an abstract painter and
a return to one fecund moment in the history of modern art.
Petunias, a 1952 watercolor, offers a bouquet of forms
that recall his contemporary, Baziotes. There is something of
Sheila Delauney in these shapes as well. Field of Flowers,
c. 1960, is a fluid, calligraphic dance of all-over color, dispersed
with an energetic and graceful hand. Constant's approach has
its antecedent in Pollock's Lavender Mist, which itself
points back to Monet's waterlilies. Contrast between figure
and ground disappear. We look straight into the surface of a
multi-colored field, its elements woven together with delicate
strands of black ink.
Immediately opposite, counterposed to Constant, is the vertical
Study for Venice with Bridge by watercolorist
Jorge Eduardo. The rigor of the study gives a useful clue to
the hyper-realism for which Eduardo is celebrated in his native
Brazil. He brings the intensity of an archivist's scrutiny to
even the smallest detail. Eduardo has built a career recording
Brazil's loveliest locales and the architecture of its colonial
past. Here, he turns his concentration on a typical view of
Venice. For all his command of the medium, his affinity for
local color and light, and his ease with architectural detail,
the painting seems more a scene prepared for tourists than a
personal response. Technique can sometimes become a bludgeon
that intimidates the audience into confusing a sense of place
with mere items in sight.
By contrast, Joseph Byrne's four diminutive tree studies are
lively and personal. They make no claim to be other than what
they are: liquid caresses of a tree trunk. One especially delicious
rendering recalls John Marin's warning against reading things
into paintings: "There's the daisy—you don't rave
over or read messages into it. You just look at that bully little
flower. That's enough." One bully little tree trunk is
John Goodrich's high spirited contributions are a surprise.
Gone is the broody quality I've come to associate with his oil
painting. Both still lifes here, attentive to the effects of
light and air, have summer written all over them. Other unexpected
pleasures are the lush, ebullient landscapes by Carolyn Harris;
the startling subtlety of Louise Matthiasdottir's subdued consideration
of the Hudson River, less showy than her usual chromatism but
with greater depth; and David Dewey's darkling portrayal of
a Belfast street on the shadow side of sunlight. Ruth Miller
is always a happy find.
Phyllis Floyd, founder of Zeuxis, offers lean, reduced figure
compositions done on site in Madison and Bryant parks. Victor
Pesce's works, each focusing on a singe object afloat on a field
of color, emphasize how much the appeal of his painting resides
in his eye for placement, independent of the characteristic
weight and texture of his oils. Robert DeNiro, Sr., who died
in 1993, is represented by a pleasant, neo-Matissean trifle
Teapot and Vase/Flowers. But name recognition lends heft
to what is almost a studio throw-away, slight in structure and
technique. (Its $16,000 thumb-in-your-eye sticker is an instructive
moment in art world pricing.) Nell Blaine's Darkening Sky,
Gloucester, just as pricey, provides more to look at.
I have always enjoyed Andrew Forge's writing more than his
painting. Elegant and spare, his work has struck me as having
an air of the podium about it—a distillation of style-conscious
theories with little blood in them. Even so, I was drawn to
the untitled watercolor submitted here. Discreet, luminous marks,
arranged in repetitive, seemingly stenciled rows, drift across
the paper. Shifting gossamer planes overlay and penetrate each
other, massed in the upper left and sliding, in delicate glissando,
toward invisibility at the lower right. It sends me away to
rethink my responses to this most refined technician.
One of the true satisfactions here is the opportunity to see
Garth Evans. Known most widely as a sculptor, his watercolors
are small astonishments. Two of them hang near a window in the
upstairs gallery, a turn of the head away from Forge. It is
an inspired placement. The works of both men share a similar
sense of sequence, of structure arising from spaced intervals—like
notes of a musical scale (Forge) or interstices between overlapping
geological structures (Evans). Both make the most of transparency
while letting color drive their compositions.
Similarities end there but how does one describe the difference?
Or the quiet pleasure of Evans' inventiveness, his lyricism,
contained in a geometry of his own devising? This is painting
that has to be viewed up close. At a distance, color and outline
assert themselves easily. But the magical subtleties of surface
and errantry of lines dissolving into worked paper reveal themselves
only on close embrace. It is hard not to lean just a little
closer to one particularly enigmatic, darksome piece just to
Kouros Gallery, 23 East 73rd Street, New York
NY 10021 Tel. 212.288.5888
A UNIQUE ARCHIVE OF PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED
DOCUMENTS concerning Eric Gill has just been discovered
by accident, according to Maev Kennedy in The Guardian.
It seems that Roger Smith, an expert on Gill, found himself
on an unscheduled visit to two women friends. He just happened
to sleep over and they just happened to have on their shelves
stuff of interest to our expert. Should you care? To drum up
interest, Kennedy begins with just the right degree of cheek:
"Eric Gill is famous for exquisite calligraphy, elegant
stone carvings and woodcuts—and incest."
That is the approach that has attached itself like a weevil
to books and articles about Gill, who died in 1940. The audience
in mind is rarely the serious student of Gill, of the English
Catholic Revival, of the Arts and Crafts Movement nor of nineteenth
century social philosophy. (Gill was well known in his lifetime
as a polemicist, though his friend G.K. Chesterton dismissed
his ideas as burlesques of the real thing.) The targeted audience
tends to be those culture-conscious peeping Toms who insist
their field glasses are for aesthetic inquiries only.
Gill himself was enough of a voyeur and just enough of a parody
of The Natural Man to be parodied himself on the centenary of
his birth by a book that is part chronicle, part encomium, part
locker-room talk for the carriage trade: Malcom Yorke's Eric
Gill: Man of Flesh and Spirit. That book has remained a
staple of Gill studies for a full 20 years. It will be interesting
to see if this new find—a lifetime's collection of every
scrap of information about Gill that his brother Evan could
compile—will add significantly to what is known about
Gill's reputation did not survive his death. Of the pre-war
British avant-garde, Jacob Epstein is the one still known and
exhibited. The others, Gill among them, were eclipsed at home
by the younger Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and on the continent
by Lehmbruck, Barlach, Maillol and carvers such as Brancusi,
Arp and Modigliani. Yorke set out to "redress such neglect."
It would have been better if he had tried to understand it.
In his time, Gill was a typical Englishman and latter-day Victorian—coxcomb,
actually. It is precisely as a man of a particular time, place
and social milieu—with its specific postures, prejudices
and sense of trespass—that Gill is interesting. Recent
attempts to present him as Good St. Gill, enlightened pater
familias and warrior against Victorian prudery ends in what
is, in effect, an apology for Gill being less interesting as
an artist than a naughty fellow. Perhaps this accidental find
will provide ground for a more substantial exploration of why
an artist so revered in his time should have been eclipsed—except
as a typesetter—so quickly.
The Guardian, August 9, 2003. "Gill
Archive Rediscovered by a Stroke of Luck" by Maev Kennedy.
MY FRONT DOOR IS TUCKED AWAY UPHILL
and off the road. Nobody just wanders past without intent. When
the doorbell rings it is usually my neighbor stopping by with
ribbon-wrapped brioche or a jar of home-made apple curry. Damiana
runs a catering business out of her own kitchen and knocks,
from time to time, with offerings left-over from a chic fund-raiser,
bar mitzvah or dinner soirée for somebody's boss.
But not this time. I opened the door to young canvasser from
Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Dark-eyed, dark haired
and multi-earringed, Hi-My-Name-Is-Peter handed me a mission
statement and asked for a donation. All in one breath. On another
day I might have fluttered at the sight of such earnest, evangelical
male beauty. Lawn pesticides? An unacceptable risk, you say?
Oh, my God! I hadn't realized! Please do come in. I must hear
all about it.
But this time, somehow, the charm fell flat. "Homeowners,
in pursuit of the perfect lawn, and encouraged by advertising,
use three times more pesticides per acre than the average farmer."
Sweet Peter, have you seen my lawn? Did you trouble to look?
It is a bed of straw. Not even my crabgrass can hang on to
Truth to tell, I dislike lawns. I have never fully recovered
from hostility to them caught during my years in Brooklyn. You
had to bike to Prospect Park to even see grass. With ex-Weathermen
and assorted Marxist profs as neighbors, it was politic to squint
at lawns as conspicuous bourgeois property statements. This
is mine, goddammit, stay off! By contrast, a dead lawn resonates
with a kind of purity, like a bus load of nuns singing "Kumbaya."
For the sake of good neighbors who wish me swaths of Kentucky
blue grass, I've wondered about installing an LED board along
the driveway. It would be hooked up to the IRS and would display
the family assets in liquid, moving lights. That way the lawn
could go to hell, where it tends to be anyway, and neighborly
protocols would be observed.
But I digress. Back to the lovely Peter.
His eyes flickered over me in quick appraisal. "Several
types of cancer, neurological diseases and birth defects have
all been associated with exposure to common lawn pesticides."
Bless you, dearheart, for pretending not to notice that birth
defects are lower on my list of worries than they used to be.
(I could have offered a Sam Adams or a good pinot grigio. But,
somehow, he looked more like crystal meth. Was it the pony tail?)
Peter was relentless. "Birds dying on lawns from pesticides
are a strong warning of the potential risks chemicals pose to
people and pests." He was eloquent. "Wildlife pathologists
see firsthand the carnage caused by the unnecessary use of lawn
and garden pesticides."
Carnage! That's the stuff. I'd love a little carnage if I knew
how to get it. I've been trying to rid us of a yellow-crowned
woodpecker for three years running. When you live in a shake
shingle house, woodpeckers are termites with wings. Carpenter
ants with feathers. But there are too many windows to risk a
BB gun. I haven't used bow and arrow since Girl Scout camp.
My husband sold his army rifle to a gun shop in Cold Spring
and our local critter catcher won't touch protected species.
I am reduced to hanging gaudy mylar balloons out the upstairs
windows and foil pie plates on every downspout.
I closed the door on Peter's zeal and good looks, silently
pledging to have all the conifers sprayed with Malathion next
season. And Orthonex on the maples, please. Just then, the territorial
drumming of a chisel-beak began on the south wall of the house.
My mind's eye flashed a hand gun.
It made me a little sad.
Maureen Mullarkey �2003