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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. Conjurer, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 48" x 107". Courtesy Walter Wickiser Gallery.
At Walter Wickiser in Chelsea we have “Francine Tint: Echo and Shadow” (through February 25). Technically, this is only half of a two-person show, but Tint’s 14 paintings -- ranging in size from small to large, and all pure abstractions-- occupy the large central space in this gallery and the larger front one of its two side spaces.

The other artist, Ken Kaminski, has only 6 pictures --small- to medium-sized semi-abstracts, all on vaguely political themes -- in the smaller back side space. Nor, I blush to admit, can I find anything more to say about them.

On the other hand, I do have a good bit more to say about Tint's exhibition, as I am very enthusiastic about almost everything in it. Although I have thought highly of her work for years, I am accustomed to thinking of it in terms of long, languorous sweeps of gel-raised and luscious but closely-valued colors—kind of an august Olitskian Götterdämmerung. There is little if anything like that in this show.

In brief, Tint has been experimenting. She has been working long and hard to differentiate her work from its former context & time frame, doing her best to drag her own unique brand of color-field painting, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

Not everything here works equally well, but I do like an artist who evolves (if only because it gives me more to write about). Some artists who evolve don’t improve upon their earlier work, but that’s the risk they have to take – and I salute those who take it.

How has Tint’s latest work changed? To begin with, it’s not as leisured, swooping and voluptuous as of old. Brushwork is now much more agitated, flustered, vehement, even aggressive, with short, sharp, staccato bursts of color.

One way or another, the impression conveyed is of a lot of action – more action, in fact, than some of the canvases of those earlier abstract expressionists officially known as “action painters.”

There’s lots less gel (though with a few grace notes of it), lots more scrubbing and scraping of the paint, lots more curved or straight sweeps of it, brusquely abbreviated.

More pictures have matte surfaces; almost none have glossy ones.

Colors are brighter, with much more vigorous color contrasts, and Tint has taken to emulating Manet, Goya & Velázquez in using black as a color more often..

In one case, she works with a mostly white field, as did Frankenthaler in the 60s—but, if only because Tint is stroking the paint onto her canvas instead of staining it in, the two artists’ pictures don’t further resemble each other.

In the 70s, Frankenthaler also drew a lot of lines upon her canvases. I never felt they worked very well for her, but now Tint is using a lot of lines (usually black) and they mostly come off much better.

One reason may be because her lines are more emphatic, more confident. For whatever reason, they operate as independent entities, sitting on the surface of the field of paint. In the process, they establish a figure-ground relationship (whatever happened to Greenbergian “flatness”?).

Furthermore, when the field underneath such lines contains a lot of blue and/or green, the painting takes on the appearance of an underwater panorama, its blues & greens sinking tumultuously into a still totally abstract space suggestive of water.

There are so many good paintings in this show that I can’t possibly comment individually on them all. But the seven that I gave three stars to on my checklist are “Lost Horizon” (2013); “Conjurer” (2011); “Sea & Sardinia” (2015); “Night of the Iguana” (2015); “Black Opal” (2012); “Come Away with Me” (2013); and “Fishnet” (2014).

You may well not have seen eye to eye with me on other occasions, though, so by all means, go & make your own selections.

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