4. About the Work
The artists in this exhibition are highly developed individuals. They are not part of any group or movement. Yet, there is a profound inter-relationship in the work and a profound interaction occurring between them. The road taken by the artists in this exhibition leads the way to the future. Faith is the key that unlocks the gate and allows what has been misunderstood and in some instances suppressed to be seen and to light the way into the next millennium. The paintings need to be discussed, and the paintings need to be seen.
One of the reasons that I believe it is important to see these works now is that there is a positive feeling in these paintings that connects quickly and immediately to the viewer. Collective and positive emotional force emanates from this collection of paintings and can be absorbed directly by the receptive viewer capable of suspending disbelief. These artists were engaged in a personal, spiritual search, the traces of which exist in these paintings. When seen together by the thoughtful viewer a plethora of visual information and an articulated language of color, composition and paint, creates a dialogue between the works that resonates with meaning and power which if nothing else will illuminate many of the mysteries of late Twentieth-Century abstraction.
There are many connections between the artists in this exhibition; personal, artistic and philosophical. There is a lot of divergence, disagreement and difference as well. Marden and Humphrey both showed at the Bykert Gallery, Stella and Poons showed at Castelli. Davis showed his first resin paintings in New York at Tibor de Nagy in 1966, joined Castelli in 1968, then left Castelli for BlumHelman in 1979. Landfield and Pettet showed at David Whitney and Christensen and Young with Dick Bellamy. Nicholas Wilder showed all of them in Los Angeles except Landfield, Humphrey and Marden. Pettet and Davis were friends in Los Angeles and Pettet, Poons, Landfield, Christensen and Young were friends in New York. Davis was friends with Stella and Poons, and Marden knew everybody.
The artists in this exhibition were familiar to each other and with each other's work. The only artist in this exhibition that I don't know is Frank Stella, but I knew his work, and Ralph Humphrey was an artist that I met a few times. The remaining six artists I count among my friends to this day.
The connection between Frank Stella and Larry Poons in the early sixties went beyond the fact that they were both young artists of approximately the same age showing their work at the Leo Castelli Gallery. They created a new kind of painting that was hard-edge, geometric, brightly colored or monochromatic, packing an immediate punch. Both artists appealed to the critical dialectic of the time which purged abstract painting of gesture and subjectivity. Poons painted dots, Stella painted stripes and they both were apparently reacting against the Abstract Expressionist generation of relational painters. Although Stella's work became increasingly colorful, shaped canvasses, the literal support of his paintings became his major preoccupation. Poons became increasingly pictorial as his color and composition developed along a romantic and decidedly subjective path. The divergence of their work widened as each artist got better at what they were doing.
Larry Poons' work of the late sixties depended on the emotional resonance of his colorfields with his floating ovals, circles and flying ellipses. The color and the compositional structure of his pictures became increasingly subjective. Relying on his intuitive pictorial sensibility, his decisions determining scale, placement and color became paramount to the quality and success of his paintings. In his hands abstract painting began reasserting its potential for pictorial newness. By following his intuitive sensibility he made radical decisions that placed him at the crossroads at the end of the sixties. Poons followed a path that led him increasingly away from the familiar into unknown and uncharted waters.
The radical academics could not or would not allow Poons the faith and consent he needed to expand the diameters of his picture-making as they became increasingly dense and thicker. The critical dialectic forced Poons to the edges of the page. He threatened the intellectual rationale the radical academics clung to when he dared to change. Poons in no uncertain terms risked everything when he threw it all away in order to make great art. The radicalness of Poons' reliance and faith in his sensibility was too much for an increasingly invested critical academia to take. Radical academics, the marginal elite were incapable of understanding or trusting the language of color and surface, nor were they prepared to trust artists. Poons had been invested with consent and free license in his quest for beauty and as his paintings grew increasingly ugly they balked. Ironically this is the same audience that demands toughness and ugliness from most artists, it seems, except Larry Poons.
Frank Stella fared much better then Poons with the radical academics at the end of the sixties. His work had served as the battleground for much of the mainstream avant-garde critical dialogue of the sixties. The Minimalists claimed him, the Formalists claimed him and volumes of unreadable intellectual argument was written about his work. The discussion proving why he did or didn't relate to Jackson Pollock was largely a matter of academic jockeying for position and power. The fact that his paintings at first purged abstraction of superfluous rhetoric and then grew increasingly rhetorical was beside the point. However powerful and provocative his late sixties paintings were he arrived at the crossroads at a dead end.
His big, bright, bold emblematic protractor and circle paintings became an embarrassing symbol of American International Imperialism. In an art world where somehow Anti-Formalism became synonymous with the Anti-War movement artists were supposed to tear down the tradition of painting and sculpture as a metaphor for being anti-government. The philosophy of de-construction became the art world's politically correct equivalent of being anti-war. The paradox of Frank Stella was that he had deconstructed the tradition of painting and sculpture so successfully that he became a new symbol for it at the end of the sixties.
To Frank Stella's credit during the early seventies he searched for a new road for his art to take. I believe that he was encouraged and perhaps inspired by the work of his embattled colleagues Larry Poons and Ronald Davis. Poons and Davis had both turned to the tradition of subjective picture making in the late sixties and both had been friends with Stella.
Stella had been occupied with shape and pictorial and literal space since the early sixties and he used color in a bold and powerful way. When I saw his architectonic relief paintings of the early seventies with new materials like wood, felt, and different levels, slopes, and planes they struck me by their relationship to Picasso's Synthetic Cubism and Picasso's Cubist sculpture and Jackson Pollocks' cut out paintings like Out of the Web. When in 1974 and 1975 Stella turned to gesture and the language of plastic paint albeit on exotic metals, he liberated himself from radical academic rhetoric by doubling back on history and touching base with tradition, pushing it as far as he could. In the mid seventies he came to a similar conclusion about doubling back to tradition that his colleagues Poons and Davis had made by the late sixties. Stella's conclusions like Poons and Davis' are uniquely his own.
In an epiphany of renewed ambition he resurrected Caravaggio for himself and demanded his ambitious abstract painting assert its potential for drama and expression. Embarked on what has become his ambitious quest for an abstract art of unlimited spatial and expressive breadth he continues to explore materials, sculpture, architecture and paint in new forms.
Ronald Davis emerged from Los Angeles as an important artist in the mid-sixties. The same age as Frank Stella and Larry Poons he also showed his work in the sixties at the Leo Castelli Gallery. At a disadvantage from the beginning with the New York critics because he was from the West Coast, Ronald Davis produced some of the most brilliantly conceived paintings of the decade. Using bright color, hard edges and shaped fiberglass supports his paintings were reminiscent of Stella's shaped canvasses. But it was Ronald Davis' pictorial innovations that made his paintings so important and so difficult for the radical academics to accept. Verging on Duchampian irreverence for theory, and with an awareness of Duchamp's The Large Glass his paintings were totally new. Containing shapes in perspective and in relationship to each other and the ambiguous picture plane, the paintings created a surrealist pictorial language with a Renaissance rendering of space that defiantly reintroduced illusion into advanced abstraction.
By the late sixties Ronald Davis began the series of multi-faceted paintings of fiberglass that are perhaps his most remarkable achievement. The paintings contain a masterful use of color and drawing and embody a sophisticated awareness of the most advanced pictorial sensibility. The pictures are like a cross section of life-a slice of life, revolving like giant turning wheels containing everything possible in the universe. They are intense, beautiful and are as visionary as an abstract William Blake, Hieronymous Bosch, Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock all at once. Simultaneously they rely on tradition and create something altogether unique.
Ronald Davis had begun at the San Francisco Art Institute as a talented young Abstract Expressionist painter. By the early sixties, Davis was making hard edge acrylic paintings on canvas. His early hard edge paintings were technically flawless, with repetitious shapes, patterning in the form of stripes and checkerboards, and a lot of red, green and blue. He knew about pink and he knew about salmon, I could tell. I remember seeing his work for the first time in 1964 and being struck by his awareness of de Kooning's Hans Hoffman's and Sam Francis' color. This came as a surprise to me because most San Francisco painters were coming out of Still and Frank Lobdell which meant an emphasis on large fields of muddy black or acid yellow. Clyfford Still had left a considerable mark on the San Francisco Art Institute and his influence was still profound when I left the school in 1965.
Nicholas Wilder was a young, extremely bright, visionary Los Angeles gallery owner who was the first to show Ronald Davis. Davis introduced him to William Pettet, a young painter with whom he had become friends. Wilder brought Pettet into his gallery and their friendship continued until Pettet left Los Angeles for New York in 1969. Pettet was interested in advanced abstract painting. He had made square monochromatic acrylic paintings that flirted with Minimalism and although he worked on canvas, Ronald Davis had found in him a kindred spirit. Los Angeles was not an encouraging milieu for serious painting. With an emphasis on hype, flashy, shocking materials and highly technical ideas the typically serious painter was often advised to go to New York.
Around 1968 Pettet's work began to change. He moved away from Minimalism toward a new painterly painting with seemingly unlimited possibilities. Pettet stained and soaked fields of acrylic color into which he sprayed and drew and pushed forms. Allowing the drawing and the color to merge and form pockets of shapes across the surfaces these flowing field paintings bore a superficial resemblance to the work of Jules Olitski. The paintings have a very tangible and distinctly natural air to them. They express nature-the landscape, atmosphere and psychological states of being. These are not works that serve any academic rhetoric. The tactile feel of Pettet's work is pictorial, and compositional. He was getting at drama, playing with color and space and he was not interested in the overall non-illusionistic fields that Greenberg recommended.
Pettet's painting became highly expressive and he continued to push his work in a lyrical and painterly direction. The connection he made with Ronald Davis was mutually beneficial as these two Los Angeles artists and their mutual friends created a new force in Lyrical painting on the West Coast.
Around that time, in 1968, Nicholas Wilder gave an exhibition to Peter Young, introducing his work to Los Angeles for the first time. Peter Young was my friend and downstairs neighbor at 94 Bowery and he told me about Pettet's work that he could see had a distinct relationship to the stain paintings that I was doing at the time.
Leaving Pomona College in 1960 Peter Young traveled to New York City and earned a degree in Art History from New York University. While working for the Pace Gallery in 1965 he began making an intense series of linear paintings with thin hand painted lines woven in tight plaid designs all over his mostly square canvasses. His colors were in a mixed secondary range that played down optical vibration in favor of quiet flatness. Young painted his first dot paintings in this period as well.
In 1966 he made a series of highly sophisticated line paintings. Painted on rectangles of sky blue with thin hard edge black lines describing simple yet complicated designs; a few of his sky blue paintings had black numbers stenciled on the surface corresponding to his own arcane system of height and width. Young also made a couple of sky blue paintings with white hard edge lines. One of the most interesting and witty paintings in this series is a large (6 x 10') white canvas with thin sky blue lines painted to resemble a brick wall.
During the early summer of 1967 Peter Young made a startlingly beautiful series of star paintings that were small white and off-white dots on a field of black and Prussian blue with thin Pthalo blue and black borders. These pictures read as both abstractions -- dots on a flat canvas, and deep illusionistic paintings of the night sky. That year Young made a major series of colored dot paintings on white fields that skyrocketed him to international attention.
When Young returned from Europe in 1968 he made a new series of black line paintings on sky blue fields that contained curved lines and circles instead of the straight lines of his previous series. That year he made new dot paintings on white fields that introduced an abstract and new compositional awareness to his dot paintings that emphasized the unique character of each picture. These paintings had a mosaic quality to them and it is not surprising that in the mid eighties Young made a series of large ceramic mosaic tile works.
Throughout 1969 Peter Young traveled. He lived in Costa Rica for four months and while there he made a series of abstract linear paintings that were stretched on supports he made from tree branches. When he returned to New York City in the Fall he made a new series of dot paintings on multi-colored fields. The accretion of brilliantly conceived and accumulated visual information that Young managed to pack into his work of the sixties is staggering. Peter Young didn't make more than a hundred paintings during this entire period but they all remain on a consistently high aesthetic level, a plateau of immense accomplishment.
After creating a colorful series of strands of carved abstract acrylic beads many of which he exhibited in New York and Germany, Peter Young left New York City. During the early seventies Young traveled extensively throughout the American Southwest and he lived for a while in Toledo, Spain and in Morocco. While traveling Young began his Folded Mandala Series. Since the early seventies Young has lived and worked in Southern Utah and Southern Arizona where he maintains his studio.
[Ronnie Landfield] After graduating from high school in 1963, and having made an accomplished body of work influenced by Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning I turned down Cooper Union to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. I was given a scholarship and I prevailed upon the president of the Kansas City Art Institute Andrew Morgan, to also give a scholarship to my friend and classmate Michael Steiner. Michael and I arrived in Kansas City on a Saturday afternoon in early September. Within a few hours after our arrival in Kansas City we were both working in the large painting studio reserved for seniors. When school began a few days later and the other students arrived we kept our spots and shared the studio with Dan Christensen, and Larry Stafford. We soon all became friends. Steiner returned to New York City in October and took a loft on Bleeker Street and the Bowery and I followed him when I returned in early November 1963. Until I left for California in February 1964 I shared the studio on the Bowery with Steiner.
My work began to change during the late fall, early winter of 1963 when I was on the Bowery. I was seeing a lot of shows and I met Hans Hofmann one day in late 1963. His paintings and especially his use of color and geometry influenced my work. I wanted to express my feelings but I wanted my work to be my own, so I searched for my own style, independent from the look of Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism.
In March of 1964 I settled in Berkeley, California. I began a group of hard edge acrylic stripe paintings and I also began to write a long and intensely personal prose poem that I called the myth. By September 1964 I became a student at the San Francisco Art Institute and in early 1965 I was sharing a huge loft at 711 Tehama Street with my friend and classmate Peter Reginato. My paintings were large scale, hard edge and a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and hard edge painting. I was experimenting with psychedelics and I was reading everything from James Joyce and Aldous Huxley to William Burroughs and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Colin Wilson's The Outsider introduced me to the occult and I soon became entrenched in Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, I also searched in vain for an unabridged version of Nijinsky's diary.
My paintings began to reflect my involvement in the mystical writings of Gurdjieff especially his book All and Everything. I was also reading Chinese philosophy and my work became more and more minimal. When I turned eighteen in January 1965 I completed writing the myth. I returned to New York City in June 1965 and made a series of simple and clear hard edge paintings that used symbolic color to represent the elements: yellow for sun, light and heat; sky-green for the void, daylight, and the answer; black for the night, the unknown and the question; and tan for flesh, being and the earth. I made a lot of hard edge paintings during that time and by the Fall of 1965 I finished a series of drawings of my next and really first series of mature paintings.
Each of the fifteen vertical paintings of the series were 9' tall and 6' wide and when completed they were supposed to hang side by side in progression. The completed series was 9' high and approximately 140' long leaving space between each painting. Each painting was evenly brushed over a gessoed ground with a disregard for brush strokes, in other words a laissez-faire approach to surface. The first painting was nearly all black with a small hard edge vertical window or doorway of sky- green in the middle of the black field. Each of the next thirteen paintings were fields of sky -green with one or more four inch borders of tan, sky-green, yellow and black or a combination of them. In number 5 the field is black and the border is tan, the field is painted with brush marks which I left in because of its earthy and painterly nature. In number eight the outside border is black, then a border of sky-green, then a border of yellow, on a black field. The last painting, number fifteen, is a monochromatic sky-green field.
I met Peter Young during the summer of 1965 when he was sharing a studio with Michael Steiner at 500 Broadway. My circle of artist friends at that time included Steiner, Young, Dan Christensen and David Wagner who had come east with Dan that summer from school in Indiana and was sharing a studio with him on Great Jones Street. During the summer of 1965 I shared a loft on East Broadway with a friend of mine from Berkeley and occasionally it served as a crash pad for Teddy, another friend of mine whom I met in Berkeley. Teddy was a good spirit who was mired in his problems.
Before I began my fifteen series paintings, 9' x 6', large open fields with 4" borders I made a group of nine or ten large hard edge paintings in mostly primary colors and some smaller ones a few of which were in black and white. I was experimenting with panels, and I did a three part painting that was a large green rectangle, a large yellow rectangle with a large red triangle. Teddy remarked that my paintings reminded him of the work of his friend, whom he met in Boston, Brice Marden. Sometime after that I met Brice Marden and he showed me his work.
The similarities between Brice Marden's work and mine were interesting to me but the differences were very apparent. I was into rectangles and I was coming out of Abstract Expressionism and as the feeling of his paint quality, the shapes of his paintings and the drips on the bottom indicated, so was he. When we met in 1965 Marden's colors were gray, tan and neutral and he was painting with oil, with carefully worked surfaces. My paintings were brighter, primary, I was painting in acrylics and I wasn't paying that much attention to surface. I remember liking him and his work but I didn't think we had that much in common. Our work was really very different. I felt that Brice was more committed to monochromatic painting than I was and he was also nine years older than me.
During the seventies as Brice Marden's work developed he expanded his painterly language considerably. In his Grove Series, and other groups of panel paintings his color became symbolic and landscape oriented. In later works he used brilliant primary color and in others he painted with mixed secondary and tertiary colors. His formats expanded as well. In the late eighties his calligraphic paintings inspired by Chinese Landscape Painting widened his range even more.
In December 1965 I shared a studio with Steiner on Broadway between Spring and Broome Streets. By the end of the year I had two series paintings finished, several other large hard edge paintings, many smaller ones, works on paper, and a few sculptures. When the building burned down in February 1966 and I lost almost everything I was briefly in a state of shock.
I moved into my girlfriend's apartment on East Eleventh Street. Dan Christensen and David Wagner stored the work that I could salvage while I tried to get back on my feet. I took a job in an advertising agency doing commercial art and I continued working in the apartment on paper. I also made small pieces of sculpture. During the Spring of 1966, David Wagner returned home to Iowa because of the tragic death of his father and I began sharing the Great Jones Street studio with Dan.
Dan Christensen's work had impressed me when I first saw it in Kansas City in 1963.
By 1965 he was working mostly in oil with interlocking geometric shapes in rich colors and complex patterns. Sometime in 1966 he switched to acrylic paint. During the summer of 1966 Dan began his series of 100" square, bar paintings that were generally in two colors; fields of rich earthy colors and bars which were usually green, black, brown or gray. I finished my series of fifteen hard edge border paintings (colored borders around the void) in August 1966. That season I made several other border paintings as well.
In the fall of 1966 I went looking for a gallery. I showed my slides to Johnny Myers who was director of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and Myers showed me some of Ralph Humphrey's border paintings of 1964-1965. This was the first time I saw Ralph Humphrey's work, and the connection to my border paintings surprised me. Myers declined interest in my work because of my similarity to Humphrey's paintings.
I met and befriended Dorothy Herzka, the director of the Bianchini Gallery on 57th Street, in the fall of1966. Dorothy suggested to me that she curate a group exhibition of young painters whose works I admired. I suggested she include Dan Christensen, Peter Young and Kenneth Showell. Dorothy also invited Peter Gourfain and she included a new painting of mine. In February 1967 the exhibition opened. Eventually we were all invited to participate in the 1967 Whitney Annual on the strength of that show.
In January 1967, I moved out of Great Jones Street and I briefly shared Peter Reginato's studio with him on Greene Street. In July 1967 I took a studio on the top floor of 94 Bowery at the suggestion of my friend Peter Young who lived on the ground floor. Sometime in 1968 my old friend from Kansas City Larry Stafford moved into the building at 94 Bowery and began his lyrical spray paintings. On the Bowery I made drawings for word-poem paintings that never got made and I began a series of 8' square border paintings with fields painted with rollers. In December 1967, I made Heaven and Earth, an abstract landscape with symbolic colored bands and borders. Throughout 1968 I made paintings with rollers, stains, hard edge borders and lines across intense colored fields. I also made a few abstract landscapes. My paintings of mid1967 through 1969 were intensely concentrated and very diverse. I made line paintings, pour paintings and by mid 1969 I began my stained landscape paintings with bands that were partially inspired by Chinese Landscape Painting.
Throughout most of 1968 I worked on stretched canvasses. I began making stain paintings unstretched on the floor around November 1968. In early 1968 I met and became friends with Larry Poons partially because our paintings were hung opposite each other at the Whitney Annual, and an intense exchange ensued between us. Larry Poons introduced me to the technique of painting on raw canvas unstretched on the floor. I knew that Jackson Pollock painted that way and it was appealing to me because it was so much more immediate than working on stretchers. I've found in the nearly thirty years of working on the floor an accessible and direct way of putting paint on canvas.
When Peter Young told me about William Pettet's paintings in 1968 I decided to go to Los Angeles. I knew Pettet's work from the Whitney Annual and I saw his exhibition at the Robert Elkon Gallery but my curiosity was piqued and I decided to go to California to see the new work for myself. I was working that year for The Something Else Press, I had been awarded a grant from the Copley Foundation, I had been included in several exhibitions, a Newsweek magazine article, an Esquire magazine article and I had begun to sell my paintings to important collectors. I had also made friends with Larry Poons and I was sometimes teaching a painting class at Bennington College in Vermont.
In the early days of January 1969 I visited California. I had a large painting from 1968, North Star, hanging in the Stanford Museum which I visited and then I went to Los Angeles and visited William Pettet's studio for the first time. I was delighted to see the work and we had a very important exchange in which I think we recognized in each other a kindred spirit. Pettet took me to Ronald Davis' studio and I saw his masterful works of the late sixties for the first time. I was thunderstruck. I'll never forget this small painting with primary colored borders and a sky-green and blue center that said it all to me. The image of colored borders around the void echoed like thunder. I returned to New York with renewed faith in the art of painting.
The artistic interaction between many of the artists in this exhibition increased as the sixties drew to a close. Brice Marden began showing his work at Bykert Gallery in the fall of 1966 and he met Ralph Humphrey who also exhibited his paintings at Bykert Gallery. I didn't know Humphrey very well but one of the first opportunities that I had to exhibit my work in New York came to me when I exhibited my 1967 painting Heaven and Earth, in Klaus Kertess' backroom during Ralph Humphrey's exhibition in early 1968.
Ralph Humphrey did very interesting work in the sixties. His close valued earth colored border paintings with softly brushed surfaces are closer to Marden's work especially in touch than my border paintings were. Humphrey's border paintings connect to mine in format but where mine verge on literal depictions of the void his were much more painterly. His nice touch, close values and felt surfaces lend a sense of concentration to his work of this period. He also made a series of line paintings in 1966 that connect to Marden, Christensen, early Pettet and some of my work of 1966-1967. I think Humphrey is a vastly underrated painter. His stain paintings of 1967-1968 are amazingly lyrical and his shaped canvasses through 1971 are also boldly lyrical. As the seventies progressed his work got less pictorial and more object oriented which is a shame. Unfortunately I think the Formalist, Anti-Formalist rhetoric split Humphrey apart.
The paintings of Dan Christensen went through an enormous transformation in 1967. After completing his bar paintings of 1966, Christensen increased his technical repertoire with spray guns and an air compressor. Spraying allowed him to do things with color and surface that couldn't be done any other way. In 1967 he made a series of stacked loops on square canvasses that were among the most original works of the decade. In 1968 he made a series of colorful sprayed atmospheres across which he painted floating multi-colored bars and rectangles. As his work has developed over four decades he has created an enormous variety of series of abstract paintings in an articulate, elegant and personal language.
A clear example of the dialogue between the works in this collection comes from noting the visual and compositional connections between Dan Christensen's 1968 painting Loo-ee , Larry Poons' 1968 painting Brown Sound, and the Ronnie Landfield painting For William Blake, of 1968-1969. In the Poons, his familiar ellipses form a unique and dramatic composition of interacting color and likewise in the Landfield and Christensen, using lines to form their dramatic compositions, all three intense works stem from an intuitive and psychological wellspring. Another interesting comparison to be drawn is between the Dan Christensen painting of 1968 Serpens, and the 1969 painting of mine Eternal Circle, both paintings exhibit an expansive and high spirited use of drawing in color across huge fields sprayed into the surface by Christensen and poured thick on top of the surface in my case.
The visual conversation that can be seen between these great abstract paintings is multi-faceted and complex. The close valued color fields of Marden, Humphrey and early Pettet relate to each other and to my early border paintings. My early border paintings of voids relate to Ralph Humphrey's border paintings and to some of the imagery in Ronald Davis' paintings. Ronald Davis' painted fiberglass shapes relate to Frank Stella's painted metal shapes. Many of Dan Christensen's bar paintings relate to my line paintings of 1968-1969 which in turn relate to Peter Young's all over dot paintings which in turn relate to Larry Poons' all over dot paintings which also relate to Dan Christensen's line paintings whose close valued color fields relate to Marden, Pettet and Humphrey.
The great Dionysian mainstream of Twentieth-Century Art, inspired by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso runs hot through the works of the artists included in this exhibition. The optimistic, romantic, psychological and personal nature of their works leads to the realization that these are not Formalist or for that matter Colorfield painters. In fact there is an autobiographical undercurrent that unmistakably characterize them as a new direction in American Painting that developed in the late sixties and the early seventies.
Lyrical Abstraction developed as a reaction to Formalism and Anti-Formalism's denouncing of personal expression in favor of a critical dialectic. The dialectic is often antithetical to artistic intentions, except where those intentions further the dialectic, or in some cases where the dialectic furthers those artistic intentions. The utter absurdity of this situation led us to the disturbing crossroads American Art faced at the end of the sixties. The fact that the artists in this exhibition have had long and productive careers that extend way beyond the seventies indicates the ridiculous hypocrisy, ambiguity and indecisiveness that has existed in the art world since then.
There are many themes depicted in this complex and visually diverse body of work. The most important theme that emerges from the work in this exhibition is the search for spirituality and higher consciousness. The great era of Lyrical Abstraction was begun in artists' studios in the sixties and continues in artists' studios to this day.
© Ronnie Landfield 1995
4. About the Work