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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."



Francine Tint, Wonky, 2012. Acrylic on canvas, 46 x 210 inches.
As March is National Women’s History Month, I cite the fine examples of 1) Louise P. Sloane, whose medium-sized & colorful, rigidly geometric abstract paintings grace the Two E Lounge in the stately Pierre Hotel (through May 31); 2) Arleen Joseph, whose modestly-scaled & colorful, gestural abstract paintings are ensconced in the busy Weill-Cornell Medical Associates clinic on West 72nd Street (through April 24), and 3) most of all, Francine Tint, who has gambled on Cavalier, a somewhat atypical gallery relatively new to the Big Apple, to present her classic yet audacious & brilliantly-hued abstract paintings in “Explorations by Francine Tint,” inhabiting Cavalier’s 4th Floor space at 3 West 57th Street (through March 24). Already, “Explorations” has garnered three enthusiastic reviews – this one is merely the fourth.


All three of these reviews appear in online publications that I had never heard of – and are (as I discovered) quite young. It was really nice to see how Tint’s work is spreading the gospel of fine abstraction to new audiences.

The oldest of the three publications is Culture Catch, founded in 2005 on the Upper West Side by singer-songwriter and “content creator” Dusty Wright.

Its review was written by Mary Hrbacek, an artist who has written enough reviews to qualify her for membership in the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

Artes Magazine was founded in 2009, and is based in Branford CT; its editor and publisher is Richard Friswell, an author, college professor and another member of AICA.

His contributing reviewer for the Tint show was D. Dominick Lombardi, an artist and writer who has also contributed reviews to the New York Times.

The youngest of these three publications is Artefuse, founded in 2010 by the Brooklyn-based artist Jamie Martinez. His reviewer was Jonathan Goodman, a guest contributor of wide experience.

All three of these critics saw Tint as an individual. To the extent that they associated her with any group or school, it was as an abstract expressionist, but all emphasized that she was updating this now-historical school.

As Lombardi put it, Tint’s paintings “bridge the Modern with the Contemporary while they place the transmission of the spirit, the essence of one’s being, as the ultimate priority.”

He mentioned Philip Guston, Turner, Cézanne & Francis Bacon in describing Tint’s work.

The term “color-field” nowhere appeared, though Goodman hinted at it by saying that Tint had been “deeply influenced” by Clement Greenberg’s writing and his person (mentioning that Greenberg had regularly visited her studio, to critique her work).

He also said that Tint’s color reminded him of Helen Frankenthaler, and classed Tint with three other “gifted” current practitioners of abstract expressionism – Louise Fishman, Amy Sillman & Larry Poons – while insisting that these were not a “group” of artists, but individuals practicing in stylistic isolation.

Hrbacek found sources for Tint’s work in nature, jazz and possibly the artist’s background as a costume designer in film and TV.

The closest this critic got to any art-historical labels was when she wrote, “This exhibition provides an opportunity to take notice and ask, what attributes separate the masterful from the mundane, in a city that has placed gestural abstraction on the international art map.”


Granted, Tint’s show was the main reason for this outpouring. But I can’t help wondering whether it may also in part have been stimulated by the atypical gallery in which the show appears.

Cavalier (named for its president, Ron Cavalier – nothing to do with 17th century English aristocrats) has been in business since 1986.

However, until recently it was only located in Greenwich CT and in Nantucket (where it is open daily in the summer). Its exhibition space in Manhattan dates only from the past few years.

At present, it has a more conventional gallery up on the 4th Floor of 3 West 57th Street.

There Tint’s show of 12 paintings hangs in two large spaces at the entry– with only a smattering of the gallery’s other artists in smaller adjoining back spaces, peering in at the Number One attraction, so to speak, from around the edges.

But down at street level, right next door to the entry leading to the elevators, is a much larger space currently exhibiting a group show of the god-damndest hodgepodge of artworks I’ve seen.

Using terminology that dates back to 18th century European literary critics, I might say that this show goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.

More accurately, I take refuge in classifications characteristic of the 1940s in America, and say we have highbrow, lowbrow and middlebrow art all mixed up together.

Highbrow, of course, on the day that I was there, seemed to be typified by two abstract paintings by Tint, and another abstract by Cleve Gray (though the Cavalier website also reproduces works by Dan Christensen, Larry Poons & Hans Hofmann, and there may have been some of these works on view that I missed).

Lowbrow (for me, anyway) was the centerpiece of the whole show: a stylized 12-high black bronze of a burly man in a business suit looking at his watch. It is by Jim Rennert, a U.S. sculptor born in 1958 and raised in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

His fans consider his work “thought-provoking” and he got a sample of it displayed in Union Square, courtesy of the New York City Parks Department, a few years ago.

Also lowbrow (for a snob like me) are smaller bronze statues of hippopotami in tutus by the Danish sculptor Bjorn Skaarup (b. 1978).

Again, the NYC Parks Department sanctioned the installation of one 15-foot-high version of these hippos last year in the small square across from Lincoln Center.

According to the Cavalier press release, the artist saw this as his way of updating the “Petite Danseuse” of Degas, so as to “revitalize” art history (Walt Disney’s dancing hippos from “Fantasia” also figured in the mix).

Middle-brow is, however, the most prevalent form of expression in this group show at Cavalier, with dozens of academically correct, medium-sized, representational paintings crowding the walls.

Most of the artists’ names were unfamiliar to me, though I did notice several works by Andrew Wyeth—and right at the entrance I spotted nice photos of the Beatles in peak form that should appeal to art-lovers of every brow.

I think it is important to prepare visitors to the Tint show by telling them all this because the door leading directly to its elevators is only open Monday to Friday.

The Tint show itself is open seven days a week, and so is the ground floor exhibition space.

Thus if you want to see the Tint show over the weekend, you should go to the ground floor exhibition space and ask to be let in to the Tint show via the side elevator.


And really, it is worth the effort. I’m not saying every one of the 12 paintings on view is equally excellent, but the percentage of successes is high.

Best of all, this is an artist who is continually experimenting, continually taking risks – and in this way, renewing her inspiration and keeping her art fresh.

I don’t know whether these three reviewers have heard of “color-field” painting – God knows the conspiracy of silence in our major media would suggest that they might not have, though it is equally possible that these reviewers feared using the term because they thought it might detract from the artist’s reputation, rather than adding to it.

But I think calling Tint an “’abstract expressionist” is selling her short, as the term would suggest that her work had developed directly out of the first generation, a group of artists whose reputations crested in the 1940s and 1950s.

Rather, I would prefer to use a term that Kenworth Moffett once suggested: he spoke of those artists who had come to maturity in the years since the 1970s as “third generation abstract expressionists.”

By this he meant that these artists had learned from the second generation (also known as color-field painters) as well as the first, and were pushing on beyond their sources into new and untried territory.

This is very true of Tint. She has moved on beyond her indebtedness to Poons and Olitski – in some ways, relatively recently – as her colors are much brighter and she is not lathering on the gel, the way that they used to, any longer.

Her surfaces – all acrylics on canvas -- are relatively flat, though frequently conveying the impression of deeper space by different degrees of thickness of the paint, and layering some forms on top of others.

I am also not happy with the phrase “gestural abstraction” to describe this work. “Gestural” is the phrase I employ to describe painters who in the 1950s were smearing up a storm in imitation of de Kooning, but they were doing it with art-store brushes, and scribbling away with the motion in their wrists.

As described by Vicky Perry, in her 2005 book on techniques of abstract painting, Tint uses long-handled house-painter brushes and rollers, so the motion is with the back, not the wrist, creating much larger and freer forms.

This is much closer to Pollock than de Kooning, even if Tint does work on the wall, as well as on the floor.

I think that she – as well as Poons of the past four or five decades and the later Olitski – fall into the category of the “painterly,” as opposed to hard-edged or geometric.

But this is only the most recent phase of Pollockian abstract expressionism, having evolved from the “post-painterly” of the 1960s (and some abstract artists still manage to wrest distinguished art from the post-painterly, as well).

This show is very well organized, with the three paintings in the entry alcove chosen to harmonize with each other, and the nine paintings in the main space carefully alternated, so that the mostly-red alternates with the mostly-green or mostly black and yellow.

As I said earlier, the overall level of achievement is high, but six of the twelve paintings stood out for me – though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that other visitors to the show were more impressed by other paintings.

In the entry alcove, I went in particular for “Flight” (2017), a very pale picture in pinks and purples, unified but absolutely impossible to reproduce….

Moving on into the main space, I was charmed by “Moving Meditation” (2017), one of the small paintings mounted on a pier, with light blue, lime and red neatly balanced off.

Especially distinguished among the medium-sized paintings is “Rebirth” (2017), on the wall to the left, with a giant, luscious peach-colored arch of color commanding most of its space, and a more textured, yellowish area down in the lower center of the painting.

Close to each other on the opposite wall are two pictures in which huge circular whooshes of color are laid on top of fields of contrasting and very unexpected colors.

“Blooms of Darkness” (2018) has a big yellow-and-black scraped circle atop a field of pink with small blue sparkles down at the bottom. The circle is slightly off-center, but it works, and of course yellow and black combined add up to a slinky green.

Similar but at the same time decisively different is “Dubstep” (2016), with scraped whooshes of orange and pink, laid on a black field, and the feeling of a whirlwind.

But the indisputable star of the show is also the largest: “Wonky” (2012), which hangs in solitary splendor on the wall facing the entryway. Long and narrow, it measures 46 inches in height, and 210 inches in length.

Its field is in shades of vibrant blue and green, this being decorated with a smattering of bright red rosettes, accent notes of purple and white, and whiplash strokes of paint throughout. Truly, it is joy-producing.

I am not the only observer who was reminded of Monet’s waterlilies by “Wonky,” but I was even more reminded of “Summertime: Number 9A” (1948), that incredibly long and narrow yellow-and-black poured painting by Jackson Pollock.

Now owned by the Tate, “Summertime” measures 3 ft. high by 18 ft. long and served as the backdrop for the photograph of Pollock himself that appeared in Life’s famous 1949 article on him.
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