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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."

 

VISITING ROYALTY: MALI MORRIS AT HALES  

 IMAGE IN PREPARATION

 

The nearest thing to royalty that British art offers is an R.A. – the title of "Royal Academician."  Mali Morris had that conferred on her in 2010, when she was 55.  Of course, if she'd been making trendier art, like the YBA's, she might have made the grade in her twenties or thirties, but as her current Manhattan show at Hales demonstrates, the Academy still goes for elegant, top grade classical abstraction (God bless them).  The show's called "Three Ghosts" and it will be up until December 17.

 

The artist was born in Caernarfon, North Wales, which is what the English call "a royal town, community and port" and in photographs is dominated by a single lovely castle.  She took her B.A. in Fine Art in 1968 at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, in a city which historically was "Noorth Coonthry" headquarters for coal export and is now better known as a university town (ironically enough, it is aiming in the 21st century to become Britain's first "carbon neutral" footprint.)

 

At Newcastle, Morris took the basic course with Richard Hamilton, well known in the '60s as the Father of English Pop.  However, when she moved south to study for an M.F.A., it was at the University of Reading and there the program was run by a veteran abstractionist, Terry Frost.

Finally, in the 70s, she migrated to London and became exposed to the full range of contemporary painting – including the "post-painterly" abstractions of Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland.

 

In time, her admiration for these masters led her to a wider acquaintance with the next generation of "post-painterly" artists: Jill Nathanson, in a Facebook post prompted by the Hales show, recalled meeting her at the Triangle Artists' Workshop (this would have been in the 80s); ;Randy Bloom (around the turn of the century) curated a show of Morris's work for "a gathering of the tribes," the gallery of Steve Cannon; and on the other side of the briny, I seem to recall David Evison saying more than once that he'd gone to an art show with Morris.

 

All this, though as the gallery's press release reminds us, Morris has also compiled  a formidable resume of solo and group exhibitions both in the UK and abroad, and is looked upon as a model for yet younger artists in the U.S. as well as the U..K.

 

In London, according to Morris's entry at the R.A. website, her studio is located in what Americans might call an artists' cooperative.  It is now in Deptford, a neighborhood on the south side of the Thames famous for its docks (and for the fact that the playwright Christopher Marlowe  was killed here in a tavern brawl).

 

Morris also lives in the area, and walks to her studio every morning across the Ha-Penny Footbridge over Deptford Creek. "My studio is on the second floor," she is quoted as saying  "I have a small balcony overlooking the creek, which is tidal, always changing.  I like keeping an eye on it.  Ducks, swans, a heron and a kingfisher pass by."

 

Inside the studio, as the entry continues (and a photograph shows), "I usually have a lot of work in progress at any one time – they come in families, individual paintings that relate strongly to each other.  I occasionally bring  out earlier works, put them up and move them around and see how they inform each other. So there's not really a linear progression – it's more like a Möbius strip, a continuum."

 

The current show illustrates this well, with three large paintings and seven small ones.  The small ones are dated between 2007 and 2015. They are all abstracts, with fluid paint application on the fields and frequently a few small hard-edge circles floating around on top of those fields, but there's no obvious progression from one to another: all are sui generis – unique.

 

Sometimes, in their scale, these small paintings remind me of Howard Hodgkin,  Morris's compatriot, but unlike his work they aren't terminally cute.  Rather, they're wise and mellow, packing a punch out of all proportion to their modest dimensions.  And what a variety of tools Morris employs to achieve her effects! As illustrated at the R. A. website, these include not only traditional artist's brushes, housepainter's brushes, and sponges but also a tool which consists of a sponge on a stick and which is called a "diddler."

 

The three large paintings in this show are the ones for whom the show itself is named. They are "Ghost" (2017), "Third Ghost" (2017) and "October Ghost" (2021). And they are the most elaborate and ambitious works in the show. All three combine a field of large rectangles or squares to which has been added a very faint overlay --  or underlay –of one or more segments of large circles.

 

These transparent circles are, in my opinion, the reason for the titles of these majestic  paintings: in their very transparency the circles look as though they had died and come back to life – as though they were haunting the canvases. What a world of painstaking labor it must have taken to achieve this extraordinary effect – applying paint, then scraping it away and/or then perhaps re-applying it (?).

 

Whatever the means the artist used,  the effect is magical.  For the circles don't obliterate the radiantly underlying squares and rectangles. If anything, they dramatize the brilliant reds, blues,  yellows and other colors that characterize these paintings.  The general effect is of paintings at once so still and at the same time, filled with life,

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A JOY TO BEHOLD: MATISSE’S “RED STUDIO”

Henri Matisse. The Red Studio. 1911. Oil on canvas, 71 1/4″ x 7′ 2 1/4″ (181 x 219.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Yes, I know, you say impatiently. But the painting of "The Red Studio" (1911) by Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954), has been one of the oft-displayed treasures of the Museum of Modern Art since it was acquired in 1949. What's so new about that?  Answer: This compact but far-ranging show united "The Red Studio" itself with almost all the smaller surviving art works that were depicted by the artist within that larger painting.  Those included paintings, sculpture, and a ceramic plate. Read More 

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SWASHBUCKLING SCENARIO: FRANCINE TINT AT NATIONAL ARTS CLUB

Francine Tint, Vernal Equinox, 2021. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 72 x 126 in. Photograph: Chris Carone.

 

 

One might never guess it to look at the svelte and poised little lady known as Francine Tint, but inside her lurks the swashbuckling scenario of those dashing, mustachioed buccaneer-types whose whiplash sword's play animates movie classics from The Sea Hawk  to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That, at any rate, is the impression one gains from the twelve large to very large and generously animated abstract paintings that constitute "Francine Tint: Life in Action," as curated by Robert C. Morgan and viewable seven days a week from 10 to 5 in the National Arts Club at 15 Gramercy Park South (through December 2). Read More 

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DISTILLED WIT: WISE WORDS FROM BANNARD

Darby Bannard's Big Little Book

 

 

Those of us lucky enough to have known Walter Darby Bannard (1934-2016) will remember that besides being a very fine painter, he was a witty and articulate writer.  The writing by him that I was initially most aware of appeared in art magazines in the '70s and '80s, when he was in the New York area and exhibiting in galleries on the Upper East Side. However, "Aphorisms for Artists: 100 Ways Toward Better Art" belongs to a later period in Bannard's life – the decades when he was in Florida, and teaching (or having taught) art at the University of Miami (toward the latter part of this period, his paintings were being rediscovered in Chelsea). Read More 

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STRONG WORK, GOOD CHOICES: RANDY BLOOM AT EMERGE

Randy Bloom, Bolide, 2022.  Acrylic on canvas, 28  x 27 inches.  Courtesy Emerge Gallery.

 

Our review this week is of "Randy Bloom" at Emerge in upstate Saugerties, NY (through September 11).  And do I ever have a distinguished guest critic for you!  The review below is by Katherine Crum, whose Ph.D. is from Columbia, and whose museum experience includes founding the Baruch  College gallery at CUNY, directing the art museum at Mills College in California, and working as chief curator at the Parrish Museum in Southampton.  As owner & co-director of the Nicholas Wilder gallery in Los Angeles, back in the 60s, Ms. Crum represented Frankenthaler, Noland and Barnett Newman, among others, and she has published on figures as diverse as Dan Christensen and Pat Lipsky.    Herewith her review & many thanks to her:

 

"Randy Bloom's current show at Emerge in Saugerties is a perfect introduction for those who don't yet know her work and a delightful taste of new directions for those who do. Strong work, good choices and a thoughtful installation highlight three phases of her work in one compact space.

 

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THE PINK CUBIST: MANIERRE DAWSON AT SCHOELKOPF

Manierre Dawson (1887-1969), Array in Brown, 1913-14.  Signed and dated at lower left, M. Dawson '13. Oil on canvas, 44 x 36 inches, 111.8 x 91.4 cm (5832). Image credit (c) Estate of Manierre Dawson, Courtesy Schoelkopf Gallery

I've long thought of Manierre Dawson (1887-1969) as "the pink cubist."  I'd only seen individual paintings by him in exhibitions of early American moderns and pink seemed a conspicuous part of his color schemes, while the dates of his paintings and their angular, convoluted shapes reminded me of Picasso & Braque during their heroic period of Analytic Cubism. I am a great fan of Analytic Cubism, so I welcomed the chance to see Dawson's work in greater depth.  On view at Schoelkopf on Manhattan's Upper East Side is "Manierre Dawson: Early Abstraction" (through August 26).  On view are 17 oil paintings done by this elusive master between 1906 and ca.1921 -- and with twelve done between 1910 and 1915, roughly the heyday of Analytic Cubism. Read More 

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COOL PAINTING FOR HOT DAYS: "HARD-EDGED" AT UPSILON

Larry Zox (left) and Willard Boepple (right) in "Hard-Edged: Geometric Abstraction" ot Upsilon

 
 

In the middle of a hot-hot summer, we have a whole show of cool, cool pictures (both in a literal sense, meaning with the shapes within them mostly carefully-and dispassionately defined, and in a slang sense, that is to say "hip," "with-it" or "the cat's meow" in the slang of other eras). This modestly-scaled but nonetheless ambitious show of 20 paintings by 10 artists is called "Hard-Edged: Geometric Abstraction" and it's at the newest branch of the newish Upsilon Gallery, the branch at 23 East 67th Street (through August13).  

 

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ART & CRITICISM: MILTON AVERY IN NY & LONDON

Milton Avery (1885-1965), Birds over sea, 1957.  Oil on canvas, 56 x 42 in. (142.2 x 106.7 cm.), Photo Credit: Adam Reich courtesy of Yares Art. Copyright: (c) 2022 The Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
 

 

This is a big season for the semi-abstract American painter Milton Avery (1885-1965).  For nearly a year a retrospective with almost 70 of his works has been taking a far-flung route, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas last fall to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut last winter and opening last week as "Milton Avery: American Colourist" at the Royal Academy of Art in London (where it stays until October 16). Here in New York, Yares Art is celebrating its half-century relationship with the artist's estate by "Milton Avery: Fifty Paintings/Fifty Years" (through July 30). Creating not one but two  museum-quality shows might tax the powers of most artists, but all things considered Avery's powers are more than equal to the task. Read More 

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GROWLY POSTMODERNISM: WINSLOW HOMER AT THE MET

Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), The Veteran in a New Field, 1865. Oil on canvas. 24 1/8
x 38 1/8in. (61.3 x 96.8cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton
de Groot (1876-1967), 1967 (67.187.131). Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

My problem is that I came in on Winslow Homer (1836-1910) when the sun of modernism still shined.  My guide was Barbara Novak, and her widely-admired "American Painting of the Nineteenth Century" (1969). But if anybody wants a primer on how postmodernist clouds have rolled in over the artistic landscape, they have only to compare her treatment of Homer with the current retrospective "Winslow Homer:  Crosscurrents" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through July 31).

 

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COLOR-FIELD IN THE HAMPTONS

I should be writing about Winslow Homer at the Met, and I'll get to it soon, but meanwhile I can't resist announcing another possible viewing pleasure, the summer show of "Leslie Feely: Hamptons," now on view through August 7, Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 pm. This is not a review.  It is only an announcement.   However, I can't get out to Long Island at present, and this show is said to have work by Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Poons, Friedel Dzubas, Robert Motherwell, and many others – so much of it that the gallery had to find a small house to display it all  (see photo).  This house is located in Wainscott at 372 Montauk Highway – for more information and/or a map, email Dakota Sica, Feely's loyal lieutenant, at dakota@lesliefeely.com  or call (917) 288-8120.

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