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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."



Larry Poons (b. 1937), One Inch Less Wild, 2001.  Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 78.5 x 111 inches (199.4 x 281.9 cm). (Inv# 3940). Courtesy Yares Art.



At Yares Art, we have "Larry Poons: First Thought, Best Thought – The Particle Paintings (1996-2002)" (through February 15, 2020).  This is not the first time I have reviewed Poons's work from this period, but I liked it a little better than I did the last time I saw it – in a show at Salander O'Reilly in February 2001.  It's cheerful, colorful and – to borrow a word from Ken Johnson, the critic from the New York Times who liked that show a lot—it's playful. 


For these reasons, it may appeal to all the good people who first made the acquaintance of the artist through the movie, "The Price of Everything," and have never heard of color-field painting.


This is not to say that the paintings in this show actually employ representation.  But, with its hints of recognizable shapes, it comes a lot closer to representation than what I know of Poons's work before and since. And the colors are lighter and brighter (as opposed to the super-subtle and more subdued palette of the artist's poured paintings from the '70s and '80s).  Ken Johnson likened them in 2001 to "cotton candy."


The current show's title, "First Thought, Best Thought," is, in my opinion, a bit of a misnomer.  It is a phrase associated with Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet who made (or claimed to make) improvisation a cornerstone of his poetry. But these paintings were most decidedly not improvised: they were very carefully thought out.  


Even in the late 80s, the artist had been making preliminary drawings for his paintings (according to Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times critic who reviewed a Poons retrospective staged by Salander in 1990).  And Poons had already begun affixing various materials – ranging from corn and polyester fiber pebbles to carpet lining and foam balls – to his canvases, before throwing and slathering paint over them.


However – and this is important to remember – he has always been an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary artist: he evolves from one style of painting to another, instead of suddenly abandoning one style of painting and just as suddenly adopting a completely different one. He evolved from his "coin-dots" to ellipses to poured paintings, and then from thinner poured paintings to thicker and thicker ones.


By the mid-90s, according to the press release for this show, "Poons started to draw shapes and lines on raw canvas, predetermining a general composition."  He would then affix to the canvas "bits and chunks (i.e. 'particles') of various items," such as foam rubber and polyester fiber and eventually paint over them.


Next, in the later 90s, the layers of paint began to become thinner and thinner and Poons stopped throwing it.  He began instead to use brushes or at times, his hands.  And of course, with his latest work, he has abandoned the accretions altogether, and applies nothing but paint to his canvases.


The show at Yares combines these "particle paintings" (in its original space) with a display of the artist's recent work (in the new space it has added this year). However, as I reviewed Poons's recent work only two years ago I am not quite ready to do it again so soon.


Of the 20 paintings, large and small, from the period between 1996 and 2002, there were three that I liked better than the others.  One is the big horizontal "Sinistra" (1996) with a stretch of strong, vigorously-colored diagonals on the right-hand side of the 12-foot-wide canvas.  Another is "Utah" (1997), which jauntily combines pink and aqua in two different areas of its vertical canvas. 


Finally, we have "One Inch Less Wild" (2001),  a sizeable but not overlarge canvas that combines oranges, browns, pinks, maroons, baby blue and yellow into a harmonious blend of blond tonalities.

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