Joyce Pensato draws in charcoal and paints in enamel — dense, clinging soot and viscous liquid. For years her palette has been black, white and silver, though color is beginning to make an appearance in her recent paintings, mostly as splatters and drips. The drawing process is one of making marks, rubbing them out and making more marks, with line being the essential form. In the paintings, the line is made of enamel that initially appears to have been applied quickly, though its varying densities and its field of drips and splatters makes it clear that it wasn’t done in a single shot. In both drawing and painting Pensato is committed to finding the linear form that captures her subject matter, be it Homer Simpson, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Batman, Groucho Marx, Felix the Cat, toy clowns, or not-so-cuddly monkeys.
The large paintings in Glenn Goldberg’s recent exhibition are part of a series collectively titled Elixir. They are half as tall as they are wide. “Eighth Elixir” (2011) is less than four feet tall and over seven feet wide, but most are slightly less than three feet high and five feet wide. Done in acrylic and ink on pale gray, gessoed grounds, the paintings have an undulating visual hum to them — think Philip Glass and Terry Riley —which is both soothing and disconcerting. This is because Goldberg effectively meshes two palettes on a gray ground — one is black and white, while the other consists of muted, often transparent colors ranging from near primaries to turquoise and violet.
The central thing that distinguishes Chris Martin from his forebears (Forrest Bess, Alfred Jensen, and Simon Gouveneur) is his meshing of visionary symbols and images derived from mass culture, particularly from the world of popular music. He has paid homage to James Brown, “the hardest working man in show business,” in a number of collages and paintings, including, in this exhibition, “Reverend Al in Mourning” (1989 – 2011), which is a large painting made of industrial aluminum foil, which includes a photocopy of a tiny, grainy newspaper photograph of Al Sharpton mourning the legendary singer. The other distinguishing feature is his slyly anarchic humor. (It’s hard to imagine Forrest Bess telling a joke).
I met Simon Gouverneur in the late 1980s, when I gave a lecture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Something that I talked about that afternoon prompted him to introduce himself — I am guessing it was Wifredo Lam. We sat in a drab conference room. For the rest of the afternoon, before I caught a train back to New York, he and I wandered through dangerous territory, which was the problematic relationship between art and race. He was happy to speak to someone who was sympathetic to his quarrel with multiculturalism, and its ideas of essentialism and who shared his interest in visionary art and painters such as Piet Mondrian and Alfred Jensen.
The other day, at a small cocktail party, a literary agent told me that he liked writers who knew and wrote for their audience. Our conversation soon sputtered out because I didn’t see any value in disagreeing with him. A few minutes later, a writer confided that he would keep working on a manuscript only if he could morally, ethically and esthetically justify what he was doing. For each of them the work itself could never be justification enough. It had to appeal to a larger power.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the extraordinary June Leaf show before it closes at the Edward Thorp Gallery on February 4, 2012.
I set out with the intention of seeing these shows, so I wouldn’t call it synchronicity, but the simultaneous exhibitions of David Goerk and Martha Clippinger in the same building, just one floor apart, did get me thinking about art making that is concerned with the realm between painting and sculpture — from della Robbia’s bas reliefs to early modernism (Hans Arp) to contemporary art (Stuart Arends, Ellsworth Kelly, Jim Lee, and Richard Tuttle).
“You do know, don’t you, that even well-meaning people are pawns for the powerful, and when it comes right down to it, humans are best thought of as oversized prawns waiting to be plucked from their beds of ice? Personally, I like to methodically squeeze the plumpest and pinkest ones between my thumb and forefinger, really smooth them out, before swallowing them whole.”
I dreamt that I met the famous and powerful Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper. She was tired of lying around in Rose Hill Permanent Rest Stop and wondered if she could get her old job back.
“I’m sure the people of Iraq are looking forward to your poem about Franco and his economy,” Isabel tells the main character, Adam Gordon. Since the death of the self, the author and painting, the desire for significance has led to a daily slew of preposterous claims and downright silly statements.
When Katherine Kuh asked Edwin Dickinson about his painting, “Self-Portrait in Uniform” (1942), where the artist depicts himself in a mirror dressed as a Union soldier, he answered, “I’ve had a number of hobbies; one was the Civil War. For about nine years I was particularly interested in that subject and the portrait comes from that time.”
Lester Johnson (1919 – 2010) remains a cult figure, particularly for those who care about painting, which, let’s face it, is a cult made up of warring factions. Johnson is a full-fledged member of the faction to which the terms “painterly,” “expressionist,” and “figurative” have accrued, but which are too diluted to be of any use. He remains best known for his paintings of men, often depicted as monochrome silhouettes packed tightly together.