In Minimalism’s Wake
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Joseph Marioni is a monochromist trying to kick the habit. Each of his paintings resonates to the single name of its hue, and when another color peeps through, it is to be the exception that proves the rule. The first and last impression is of one color. At least, that’s the way it used to be.
Mr. Marioni works in acrylic, applying thick layers of it to big, usually square canvases with a house painter’s roller. The resulting surfaces, mottled and sticky looking, differentiate him from the legion of monochrome painters who prefer complete impersonality and evenness.And the indulgent richness of his colors in their glistening states separates him from uncompromising conceptual-minimalists like Alan Charlton, who favors gray house paint precisely for its anonymity.
Mr. Marioni’s surfaces arouse ambivalent responses. Because of his chosen tool, we tend not to think of the brushstrokes as “expressive,” yet his paintings’ busy edges bristle with personal, local, intuitive decisions. The incremental surfaces may seem arbitrary, but combined with the warmth and specificity of his colors, they induce empathy. The eye wants to linger and involve itself with the complexities of the surface.
His new body of work – the inaugural show in Peter Blum’s new Chelsea gallery space – represents a departure for Mr. Marioni. The typical square has given way to a landscape format. The paint looks to be poured rather than rolled. And the hovering background colors, which the final surface all but covers, assert themselves with newfound boldness. Mr. Marioni’s trademark strategy has given way to something altogether more imagistic: The top color is now presented as a shape inhabiting a field defined by another color, which achieves some degree of equality, albeit within a figure-ground relationship.
These new works are all obstinately titled “Painting 2006.” In two of them, tree trunk-like forms fill out their base; colored silvery and pinkish white, respectively, they also resemble sheets hanging out to dry, fluttering against very dark, almost black grounds.
These veil-like shapes recall the poured, stained canvases created in the early 1960s by the Abstract Expressionist Morris Louis. Has Mr.Marioni joined the traditionalist fold? The fact that he has recently found an eloquent champion in the veteran formalist critic Michael Fried – in contrast with his more conceptually oriented followers and collectors in Europe – encourages such an impression, as does the sumptuous, resonant lushness of these works.
Although Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, like Mr.Marioni,has emerged in the wake of minimalism, he represents a different tradition of painterly abstraction, connecting to older models (Kandinsky, for instance) while also seeming more au courant. His four canvases in the tight Gray Kapernekas space are happily crowded , both among themselves and internally. Whereas Mr. Marioni needs the cavernous Blum barn for his grand statements, Mr. Gilbert-Rolfe benefits from the forced intimacy of this gallery.
These paintings, each 70 inches square, are unabashedly pictorial. In them, Mr. Gilbert-Rolfe manages to reconcile the sensibilities of a color-field painter and a miniaturist, exploring a remarkable range of touch, temperature, attitude, and scale.
For Mr. Gilbert-Rolfe, monochrome is a delicate achievement rather than an act of defiance. He is more inclined to closely related hues, or cheeky contrasts, such as the expanse of vermillion and strip of purple in “Step” (2004-05). The bigger areas of color are separated by a ziggurat form – it looks like a sky scraper at its base, then tapers to the right, into the vermillion zone – made up of fastidiously painted strips of color.
“The Chameleon and the Wraith” (2003-04) presents suitably contrasting treatments for the creatures named in the title – though which is which is open to conjecture. One area has neatly dispatched little squares and rectangles, the other a heap of sticks in the process of coalescing into some kind of figure.These contrasting geometric and organic activities cohabit within a pinkand-blue ground into which they sink, or from which they emerge.
Mr. Gilbert-Rolfe’s intimacy of touch, his quizzical scale, and the patient way he builds his pictures from abstract shapes and sensations relates him to Thomas Nozkowski, one of the contemporary masters of abstract painting.
Mr. Nozkowski’s latest show is gorgeously installed in BravinLee’s railway-carriage gallery. Two blocks of six drawings face each other in the first room; the next room displays drawings from his recent collaboration with the poet John Yau, the 2005 “Ing Grish Suite”; a luminous set of recent etchings occupies a third room.These works on paper don’t have a traditional relationship to painting – they are neither preparatory, nor a release for tangential interests. And there is nothing tentative about them. The drawings in the front room fill the page as much as any Nozkowski painting does its canvas.
These drawings, each approximately 22 inches by 30 inches, are remarkable both for their consistency and for the variety of imagery and palette.The consistency comes from Mr. Nozkowski’s insistence on a strong figure-ground relationship: His quirky forms seem deliberated, as if representing something temptingly specific while obstinately eluding actual figural associations.
“Untitled (Q-14)” (2002) has a flattened, yellow shape resting on a brown mound with what could read as landscape behind (purple surmounted by green). The yellow shape could almost be an animal of some sort, lying sideways to display its breast.And in another cheeky flirtation with literalism, “Untitled (Q-55)” (2004) has two voluptuous shapes in harlequin patterns that look like lower, stockinged female legs protruding from behind the picture plane.
Stephen Mueller is a close cousin of both Messrs. Nozkowksi and Gilbert-Rolfe, sharing with the first a penchant for emblems and with the second a cheery palette of lyrical contrasts. But Mr. Mueller has a more whimsical attitude toward figureground relationships.
“Mneme” (2006) plays a cosmic game of push-pull, in Hans Hofmann’s sense of the phrase. The background is a melding rainbow of watercolor-like strokes in pink, purple, and mauve, over which a transparent gray orb floats, as if the shadow of a planet in eclipse. Superimposed are various flat forms: two pink eggs striated in a spectrum from light to dark; a blue rectangle, framed in white and red; and a typical Mueller shape that reads like three vases internally united by thickly painted, brightly colored stripes.
The smaller canvases are capable of more focused contrasts of flatness and depth. “797 Untitled” (2006) is a gem. Against a red ground, a bright green, pineapple-like mandala shape crescendos toward burgundy at the top. The shape is filled with raining diamonds,in oranges and reds that are hued to the ground. The different sizes of the diamonds denote depth, despite the flatness this pattern achieves. This is gorgeous painting, yoga for the eye.
Marioni until July 1 (526 W. 29th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-244-6055). Prices: $100,000-$250,000. Gilbert-Rolfe until June 17 (526 W. 26th Street, no. 814, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-462-4150). Price: $30,000. Nozkowski until June 17 (526 W. 26th Street, no. 211, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-462-4404). Price: $15,000. Mueller until June 7 (522 W. 24th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-242-4514). Prices: $3,500-$22,000.