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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."



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).


Dramatizing the vigor with which the acrylic paint is laid on is the profusion of circles employed, sometimes giving the impression of whirlpools or aerial views of cyclones.  This is especially apparent in the second of  the two large galleries devoted to the show.  On the day I visited, a TV program was being shot in the first gallery, so I was ushered first into the second gallery. Among the paintings in this second gallery that emphasize circles are "Terra" (2022), "Wild Strawberries" (2022) and  "Roundhouse" (2022).


The mood changed, however, when I was able to move into the first gallery. Tempering the drama and lending it gentleness are the pale colors employed by so many of the paintings here, the thinness with which the paint is so often laid on, the generous areas of canvas left bare, and the use of quiet lines of charcoal. This uplift and stabilization of mood was particularly striking if one entered the first gallery directly from the second, and saw a lineup of three canvases on the facing wall, all serenely heavy on whites, off-whites and/or bare canvas: "Harmony of Silence" (2022),"Astro World" (2022) and "Winter Garden" (2021)


Given pride of place – facing the entry of this first gallery – is a large painting called "Voltaire in Love" (2020). The artist is a voracious reader and the title of this painting seems to be drawn from a novel by Nancy Mitford, but what it reminded me of is the book I half-thought of writing back around 1969, right after the appeal of a certain gentleman art critic had lured me from the cozy security of Time magazine and into an art world where my future was anybody's guess.


The novel was to be called "Diderot in Love" because Clement Greenberg  had told me that Mary McCarthy had likened him to Denis Diderot, the first art critic.  In my novel Diderot was to fall for a beautiful nun in a convent.  In order to seduce her he had to persuade her to leave the convent—so she leaves the convent and he installs her instead in a whore house….


I mention this mainly to get in the fact that although Tint prefers to be known in the 21st century as a latter-day abstract expressionist, in earlier decades she would have been known as a member of the "color field" school associated with Greenberg – not that they ever dated, but he thought highly enough of her paintings to visit her studio and critique them for her.  (It's one of the ironies of the art world that decades of mud-slinging by the many second-rate artists whom he correctly called second-rate should have rendered the very few artists he did admire art-world pariahs. This was the price they all paid for his unflinching intellectual honesty.  But I digress.)


One of the two best paintings in this predominantly admirable show is called (with a nod to post-modernist feminism) "Homage to Artemisia" (2021).  It hangs in the second gallery, with all those circles, but instead of circles, this horizontally shaped canvas features a large whitish shape that reminds me of an ancient Greek trireme, laden with areas of lemon yellow, baby blue and pink.   The field here is black, but the black is loosely brushed -- handled in such a way that it looks like part of the composition. Tint is one of those rare artists who – like Velasquez, Goya and Manet – think of black not as an absence of color but as a color in itself.


The best painting in the show, however, is also the largest and hangs in the paler, more serene first gallery. Measuring roughly six feet by ten feet, it is called "Vernal Equinox,"  was painted in 2021, and is truly lovely.   The dominant colors are pale blue and pale green – which to me (as evidently to Tint) are the colors one sees in spring, with the trees putting forth their first pale leaves against the crisp blue of the April/ May/June sky. However, the composition of this painting – which owes its all-over-ness to an interlocking series of half-circles and horizontal bands of colors – is knitted together with gentle narrow charcoal marks of black and red, plus the occasional reddish accent--can that be the first cardinal of spring flashing between the leaves?


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