Thursday, November 21, 2019

Matthew Wong; Blue. Karma Gallery.

All painters should share an ache while mourning the loss of Matthew Wong. This youthful master left way too much art undone. Maybe in some parallel universe he still works his gloriously pictorial lifestyle. I hope he’s feeling better wherever he might be.

Wong’s clean cut fluidity displays a succinctly delicate touch. That he never encountered any formal training is bad news for art schools, the lesson being that some things cannot be taught.
There is a dreamy congruence to Wong’s crisp narratives that seamlessly bridge sentiment and sensation. This dichotomy between detailed description and inventive intuition leads viewers into fictionalized notions of representational scenery.
The compelling compositional integrity fluxes into and out of figuration and landscape with a profound uncertainty. There is an almost cartoonish nuance that encapsulates a charming naivety. These are fairytales rooted in a pensive, brooding anxiety, not scary but possibly foreboding.  
A psychological drama pervades his still-life assemblages, as intensely chromatic spotlights illuminate corners in the flat-ish Matisse-esque picture plane.  
The sumptuous flourish of Wong’s brushstroke is breathtaking. It is rare to encounter such dexterity and purity of intent. Pools of effervescent luminosity transmogrify pigment into a lusciously smooth slipperiness. There can be no doubt about the clarity of design, but seen within a context of highly charged emotive ambiguity. His imagery resists literal interpretation, while evoking an unspoken, yet plaintive response.   
I can’t imagine he reworked these canvases very often. They simultaneously contain a pictorial immediacy and contemplative resonance, while utilizing a deftly executed graphic interface that infuses an intricately dramatic balancing act with a gliding ease of almost offhand elegance. Its as though he never forced a mark on his pictures, accordingly they are always in harmonious juxtaposition.  
This apparent lack of artistic struggle belies a life in turmoil. His depression must have been an overriding influence on the melancholy atmospherics. There is a chilly dark loneliness of space that presages an all encompassing void. Wong’s paintings seem to be staring out the window in the middle of a sleepless, Hopper-esque night.
Even the more expansive imagery morphs into interiors. This is nature seen through a psychic portal that is always indoors, quietly sheltered from the elements.

I hope Wong knew how good his work was, and derived some degree of reassurance that his life had meaning. Tragedy knows no bounds, and this exalted artist will always be remembered with a tint of regret.   

“Sometimes I could just be making marks almost haphazardly and at a certain point I step back and realize I have a finished, satisfactory image that I have no idea how I managed to pull that one off,” he told Studio Critical when he was just getting started, in 2013. “I’m just going with my gut at the moment. But often times, my gut also cancels itself out and I keep painting over an image with a totally different image, and work like this can go on for months before a single surface is resolved.”

Matthew WongBlueNovember 8, 2019–January 5, 2020

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Len Bellinger; Painting Notes. DAVID&SCHWEITZER Contemporary

Len Bellinger’s work is not for the faint of heart. His robust constructions are slathered with a visceral muscularity. Underestimate their virility at your own risk.
Better yet, accept that these painterly dioramas reward your extended gaze with a broad spectrum of visual stimulation.
Assimilation is not immediate; first off you’ll become aware of their intransigent occupation of wall space. There is a persistent imperative to their presence, crucial to drawing in viewer recognition that there is more to this work than the materialistic urgency it exudes.
An undulating relationship is revealed between figure and field that soothes the eye, and encompasses an atmospheric vision relating to Turner and Ryder.
This powerful flux of nature and biomorphism leads to an essential notion of self in Bellinger’s art.

MEASU 1995-1998 Oil, staples, rags, canvas on canvas. 74" x 62"

The extroverted surfaces support the inner workings of an expansive psyche that connects to densely narrative drama inspired by sources such as James Joyce, coupled with compulsive assemblage elements that include relics from his Catholic girls school art teacher pedagogy.   
Bellinger relies on an incumbent artistic identity that has forgone popularity with a monkish zeal.  He has hunkered down for decades in a small cloistered enclave in furthest Queens, making objects related to painting, but that end up as devotional icons.
Bellinger is not so much painter, as shaman, his earthy chroma conjuring up spectral ancestors that morph into secular altarpieces.

PAGAN 1992-1993 Oil, canvas, staples, religious medals, repro on canvas. 72" x 48"

The palette is like an alchemist’s apothecary, layering element upon element until critical mass is achieved. Like overburdened cauldrons, they might risk spillage or implosion, but achieve an uneasy equilibrium reminding us of the inherent gravitational jeopardy found at the event horizon of black holes.
And like black holes, the density of his surfaces do not emit light, so much as smolder just under the visible wavelength.

THUG 2015-2018 Oil, staples, canvas on canvas. 61"x 54"

This is where Bellinger’s assemblage of small collectibles, and use of impasto pigment contribute to infusing a dense, almost impenetrable textural patina to the foreground.
Fortunately there are vaporous atmospheric veils that drift in and out of focus, offering respite from a brooding moodiness that might otherwise overwhelm an already loaded foundation. 
Unexpected details such as large nails protruding from the bottom of his heavy looking strechers, and strips of canvas bunched and glued to the surface, offer safety valves that relieve visual stress, and let the eye wander randomly to these various, sundry nuggets.         
GUARDIAN 1993-1995 Oil, wax, acrylic, glue on cardboard. 11" x 9" x 4" 

On a technical level the draftsmanship in this art is counter intuitive. Bellinger could be considered an outsider “enfant terrible” not interested in representing the landscape or the figure per se; yet his astutely formulated gestures enable a fulsome picture plane based on sensation and structural ingenuity. The brute physicality of his compositions belies an intuitive sensitivity that lends pliability to the physique of his architecture.  

STAND 1996 Oil, acrylic, etching ink, glue on wood panel. 48" x 38"

His work inhabits a personal biology that dissects, and renders a Soutine-like fleshiness. This unabashed admission of nakedness and vulnerability embody the struggle to be beautiful without makeup.
This artist is more concerned with documenting the authenticity of his intentions, than depicting overtly sentimental happy endings.

TMD 2018 Acrylic, gesso, watercolor, china marker on repro. 10" x 7"

I always try to ascertain if an artist is making it up as they go along. That is not necessarily a bad thing if the work is all about living in the moment.
In Bellinger’s case I think its safe to say he occupies a more considered, old school, “noir” kind of artistic tradition, working mostly under the radar for many years, immersed in a verite, art underbelly not frequently exposed to the light of day.
This lends him a tough-guy, no-nonsense, been-around-the-block, dues paying credibility that the old AbExr’s craved. He has carved out a convincing case for making art that, although you might not want to meet in a dark alley, propels an impetus for visual nourishment.  

THUG (detail)


Monday, March 16, 2015

Yevgeniya Baras: Of Things Soothsaid and Spoken

Baras is a young artist with an old soul. Perhaps the immigrant experience informs her persona, arcing generations of Russian Jews relocating to the Promised Land of the New York art world.
Baras is not your typical, well-rounded visual artist. Her monkish devotion to esoterica, psyche, and nature coalesce as iconographic altarpieces, harkening to her Russian/Jewish origins. There is a focus on low-tech materials. Her imagery is devoid of cynical gestures or any overt quest for political relevance.   
She is not concerned with décor, or becoming fashionably elite. These are encouraging traits in an artist just beginning to catch on, and indicates a creative identity oblivious to the distractions of art as a day job.
Baras’ vernacular vocabulary effectively informs her content; folksy references to rustic emblems enable the casual offhandedness seen in her impastoed frames. The artist’s informal technique lends an outsider feel to the textured reliefs. Some surfaces are rooted in craft-like traditions of weaving and stitching, invoking references to peasant culture.
Yet there is a compellingly sublime undertow of mystical provenance. Baras uses color to imbue a sensation of nature and atmosphere, which manifest as landscape felt through a highly charged notion of ancestral memory. This essence of chroma as a succinct psychic property, informs the artist’s work with an indistinct sentiment, seemingly historical in origin.       
There is an inherent dichotomy of intimacy and detachment. The pieces are not personal biographical narratives. They project a chilly sensitivity, you don’t cozy up to her compositions, so much as decipher them. Baras’ symbolist iconology tends to dictate a certain message; belief that physicality of medium can trans-mutate into spiritual revelation. 
Her work becomes most accomplished when her scratchy engraving carves into darkly brooding backgrounds that anchor child-like semiotics. Yet these are not simplistic images. They may recall lost notions, but encompass dense moments of intuitive prowess. They could be dream-like visions of the material world transformed, channeled through the sludge of the here and now. The tracks Baras leaves with her cryptic placards lead us to the inevitable conclusion that this artist has found a path she can follow. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Farrell Brickhouse

Life On Mars

Brickhouse may not have been born with a silver spoon on his pallet; and appropriately his blue collar past contributes to an unfashionably casual vernacular. 
Accordingly these paintings are fashioned the old-fashioned way. They are of no use as eye candy, and I’d guess his brushes are encrusted with a patina of poignant memory.
Brickhouse’s work is all about sensation and persona. Although not exclusively autobiographical, they largely stem from original sources of recalled life experience. Artist’s need strong hands. To this end Brickhouse worked on a fishing boat in his youth, an avocation that still reverberates in his imagery. 

The Sparrows 
oil on cavas. 
22" x 28"

Yet this artist thrives on a sensitivity tuned in to psychic implications. The potential for a mythic narrative is not so much heroic, as bashful. References to imaginary identities have vague correspondencies with the ancient Greeks, but morph into elusively phantasmagorical fictions filtered through an interpretive lens.
Akin to a child’s bedtime fable, utterly non-mechanical fairies dance and prance to some indistinct tune heard only at the onset of sleep.

Cave's Light III 2014 
oil, glitter and silver pigment on canvas. 
30" x 20"

The gelatinous, monochromatic architecture of these interiors become part of a larger continuum. A persistent left to right procession inhabits the semiotics of the artist’s picture plane. We are witnessing only a small portion of a hallucinogenic stage play that extends beyond our visual sightlines. 
I prefer the artist’s wall pieces most when not encumbered by 3D paraphernalia, which I find tends to weigh them down.
Left to their own devices, Brickhouse’s brushy notions acquire a kind of sloppy finesse.
They engage an illusionistic flux that free up his potent symbols, without need for compositional depth or overly textured impasto. The flat paintings are based on patterned, repetitive motifs that resonate with a delicate physicality. 
This reflective approach culminates in “Moving Wood II“. Ostensibly a re-creation of time spent lugging plywood from his house, this painting exudes a goofy splendor. Possibly a fragment from some postmodern ballet, or a Daffy Duck cartoon, it vibrates with figurative intensity. 
Brickhouse’s work inhabits his being, which is his medium as much as paint. This totality of creative momentum, lends credibility to his swervy little world. We should appreciate this private realm gone public, as a rare glimpse into a minds eye.


Moving Wood II 
oil on canvased wood panel. 
36" x 31"

Monday, September 29, 2014

Todd Bienvenu; Borrowing Tomorrow’s Fun.

I’d like to think Bushwick will end up spawning creative talent identified as part of a particular time and place. The Bushwick scene has been primarily a youth movement, which I see as vital to the continuity of contemporary visual art, and historically as a connection to previous art communities.
I’d hope that Bienvenu’s early artistic identity will always be linked to the ungentrified origins of Bushwick’s burgeoning crowd of rambunctious rebels.  
Bienvenu’s bad boy pictorial antics helped land him some notoriety, but those paintings are also some of his most convincing work.  Poking fun at pop culture porno relieves the artist from over-burdening his canvases with excess sentiment. The artist’s most pressing concern in these paintings is that they not be taken too seriously.

Bienvenu’s use of iconography serves his instinct for layered texture nicely. The painting “Talking About Abstract Painting” with a skull and caption bubble, delves into a nihilistic nether region of scraping and over-painting, expressing an intuitive warning of some impending psychic calamity. 

Talking About Abstract Painting
The painted works on paper sustain the artist’s ability to isolate and magnify moments of painterly prowess. These succinct, off-the-cuff gestures could be frames from some outré comic strip.
Bienvenu’s more ambitious, larger scale works vacillate from tour-de-force, to less complete manifestations. I find his key to resolution rooted in texture and physicality.
The condensed architecture seen in “Perspective” contains a neo-abstract grid of loosely sketched facial symmetries. It’s like looking at ten Basquiat’s stacked in a pile. This no-holds-barred conglomeration is actually a highly refined process of improvisational mark making, resulting in a visual synthesis of pigmented tapestry.  


The artist can get a bit carried away by his rock concert conceit, indulging in acrobatic maneuvers that can come off as a little flat. But when textured nuance takes priority, he becomes more of a painter, and less of a raconteur. 
Yet narrative content is a crucial aspect of Bienvenu’s figurative inclinations. Whether a vulgar reference to a sex act, or a sociological documentation of tattooed biker trailer trash, the artist usually has a story to relate.

However they are not morality tales, and despite his enthusiastic renditions, Bienvenu does not cast judgment. He likes to watch. His powers of observation, supported by a savvy grasp of R Crumb-like illustration, are abetted by his knack for painting theatrically constructed compositions. He paints dramatic moments in progress. This might be considered a new version of New York action painting, via Southern Culture On The Skids.
I like that the artist has worked through his influences of decadent Beckman and ironic Crumb, et al, while managing to sustain his youthful exuberance. This work provides a respectful nod to historical references, and then quite literally gives us a joyful finger.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Arnold Mesches-Eternal Return

Life On Mars

Mesches is a stud of a painter. 90 years young, he exudes a macho strut. This confluence of wisdom and pluck is reflected in the muscular, confrontational strata of his painterly architecture.
His no-nonsense scenery, influenced by Soviet Social Realism, derives from a colorful life on the left coast. Born to an orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx, he became a left-wing Zionist interested in Marxism. I’d assume he was sympathetic to the American Communist Party, (he was a friend of Paul Robeson) and the enlightened tradition of the Hollywood Comintern in the 30s and 40’s before Stalin’s crimes and McCarthy’s paranoia took its toll on the movement.
In the tradition of socialist atheism, Mesches embraces a secular perspective. His paintings do not indulge in speculative metaphysics. They are festooned with feisty decorations that may not soothe the soul, but are soulful. 

Detail Coming Attractions 5

Detail, Coming Attractions 6

In Coming Attractions 5, clothes hanging from a line rudely interrupt the interior of a cathedral-like space, playfully nudging our frame of reference, while perhaps belittling organized orthodoxy.     

 Coming Attractions 5

The urban collages contain a reflective presence. Eternal Return 3 features a foreboding skull, conjuring up medical imagery, while foreshadowing a sense of doom. Possibly an elder’s reference to the impending urgency of mortal decay. 

Detail, Eternal Return 3

Eternal Return 3

There is a rough elegance to Mesches’s collages. They may not be technical tour-de-force’s, but what they might resist in symbiosis with the viewer, they more than make up for in compellingly authentic visual narratives. These rambunctiously riotous compilations of city sprawl contain haunting imagery that evokes an apocalyptic notion worthy of that gloriously noir LA tradition.   


Mesches’s art is laden with character metaphor. This cogent ability to infuse compositions with symbolic versions of person and personality lend a kind of veiled intimacy to his representational prowess. But you don’t really get to know the artist, so much as respect him. Cryptic revelations imbued with fire conjure up Charles Burchfield’s burning houses without the spiritual ascendancy. This conflagration consumes an artist consumed by a desire to paint succinctly forceful gestures. 

Detail, Shock and Awe 23

Shock and Awe 23

His expansive interiors coalesce as references to dream sensations that offer up a splendid dichotomy of loose and tight/dark and light. In Coming Attractions 6, skeletal archetypes span a voluminous void, inhabited by iconographic constellations of dinosaur fossils floating about an allegorical realm. 

Coming Attractions 6

The crowd scene paintings foment a lustrous visage of pigment, spread about with less of a regard for pictorial realism, and thus end up becoming more pure compilations of chromatic intensity.
They merge towards a filmic synthesis; a long shot zoomed in, impelling an almost abstract result. These works epitomize the artist’s figurative gestures. Casually staged and painted, they belie a highly charged picture plane chock full of incipient drama. Like blossoms bursting they release an outpouring of life energy that affirms this painters humanist mission.
Mesches is an old school, lunch pail artist whose workman-like oeuvre has hammered out a well-deserved niche. Probably the last of his generation, it is amazing to see such a prolific artist still painting his ass off.

Eternal Return 10

Eternal Return 4

Detail, Eternal Return (?)

A good synopsis of Mesches’s career:

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vapors and Squalls, or Mediums

At Centotto

Keeping up with Paul D'Agostino is no easy task.
Not only does he have a Ph.D. in Italian Literature, a mind attuned to the constructs of visual art’s dialogue with writing and philosophy, but he also sees a lot of exhibitions, has a well-versed eye, and makes unpredictably intriguing art that lends credence to his intellectual prowess.
Our official resident scholar of Bushwick.
Ensconced in his art cave/aerie, D'Agostino delves into stimulating narrative comparisons of literature and art. This interaction between images and words compliments the nature of each medium, while expanding the possibility of creative connections by crisscrossing a linguistics approach within a visually intuitive framework.
Vapors and Squalls, or Mediums ventures into realms of climatic metaphor, exploring the inner/outer aspect of moody atmospheres, perhaps as Plato might have envisioned it:  So it is with air: there is the brightest variety which we call aether, the muddiest which we call mist and darkness, and other kinds for which we have no name...”

The exhibit employs literary quotes found by the artists that expound on their images, of which I have excerpted below.
Karen Marston's vortexes and crashing waves, seen in her “Disaster” series, import a graceful notion of gloom and doom, in a cautionary, quasi-representational weather report.
“I see the whirlwind hanging from the black sky”
From Medea, Euripides

By contrast Jonathan Quinn’s monochromatically inclined quietude, transports us to sublime doldrums of eloquent pigment. Coupled with intricate, small photos of less placid conditions, these serene mediations connect well with:
 “Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink”,
From The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

Kate Teale’s sultry grids suffused with graphite, conjure up a curious dichotomy between wet and dry.  Perhaps illustrating the ebb and flow of tidal forces are more to her liking than making any overt references to nature:
“One summer blizzard is much like another”
“You may sleep dreamlessly nearly all the time”
“or drowsily you may visit other parts of the world, while the drifting snow purrs against the green tent at your head.
But outside there is raging chaos.”
From The Worst Journey In The World-Antarctica, 1910-1913, Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Wendy Klemperer’s howling, snarling beasts may portend Mother Nature’s cruelty, or Gaia’s primeval instincts. The artist portrays her creatures as players in Darwin’s grand scheme of survival. Could there be a moral to this story?
“Full in this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge, humped old bull, which by his comparatively slow progress, as well as by the unusual yellowish incrustations over-growing him, seemed afflicted with the jaundice, or some other infirmity. Whether this whale belonged to the pod in advance, seemed questionable; for it is not customary for such venerable leviathans to be at all social. Nevertheless, he stuck to their wake, though indeed their back water must have retarded him, because the white-bone or swell at his broad muzzle was a dashed one, like the swell formed when two hostile currents meet. His spout was short, slow, and laborious; coming forth with a choking sort of gush, and spending itself in torn shreds, followed by strange subterranean commotions in him, which seemed to have egress at his other buried extremity, causing the waters behind him to upbubble.”
From The Pequod Meets The Virgin”, chapter 81, Moby Dick, Herman Melville.

As a summary I quote;
Zephyrs, gales
and protean waters
work through mediums,
often, to become visible.
As do depictions of the same.
Or visions thereof. Like
moistures in winds
nearby, above.
Confluences, disturbances
terrestrial, celestial.