Painter’s Tough Choices
Promote Harmonious VitalityFew artists ask as much of themselves as John Dubrow, whose recent paintings are on display at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries. One need only look at the surface of his canvases to realize that he is constitutionally incapable of settling for the easy out. Each picture-whether it depicts the filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, Jerusalem as seen from a hill top or a Soho intersection-has been arrived at through a sustained process of painterly inquiry. Describing form through blocky faceting, Mr. Dubrow’s brushwork is rugged and thick, determined and malleable. When the surface is built up to a dramatic level-portions of Self-Portrait (2000-1) are almost relief sculpture-we can tell that tough decisions were made. Correct decisions: Forswearing the glib, Mr. Dubrow pushes his pictures to the point where paint and image take on a shared vitality. There’s not a gratuitous or arbitrary moment to be found in them.
Light is the defining aspect of Mr. Dubrow’s work. Encompassing and humane, it bathes the objects and people in its path with an inquisitive, though not invasive, regard. The new canvases display a healthy continuity, but a couple of them suggest a broadening of Mr. Dubrow’s pictorial goals and, perhaps, a deepening as well. The dry melancholy of Prince and Broadway (2002) almost qualifies as Expressionism; a post-9/11 ambiance makes the painting much more a statement than anything the artist has done before. Even better is Rephidim
(2001-3): Aaron and Hur hold up the aged Moses’ hands in order to insure Israel’s victory over the Amalekites. A narrative, let alone a Biblical narrative, is the last thing one would expect from Mr. Dubrow, and I suspect I’m fascinated with the picture at least in part because it’s radically atypical. Yet there’s no denying the eloquence he has brought to bear, shading the image with a pensive mixture of resignation and duty. Though Mr. Dubrow asks a lot of himself, it’s the probity of his reply that matters most.
John Dubrow: Paintings is at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 20 East 79th Street, until May 31.
The drawings of Henry Pearson, on display at the Alexandre Gallery, offer a superlative lesson in the dynamics and dichotomies of scale. His black-and-white pen-and-ink pictures, created between 1959 and 1964, are small in size-the biggest measures about seven by 10 inches-yet the world they encompass is huge. Indeed, the smaller the picture, the more boundless and daunting it seems. Mr. Pearson’s linear patterning veers between densely knit swirls of decorative incident and cross-contour portrayals of imaginary, though highly suggestive, events. The drawings bring to mind folds of flesh, fingerprints, crystals and mountainous landscapes seen from the air. (During his service in World War II, Mr. Pearson drew topographical maps of Japan that were used as aids for pilots on bombing missions.)
The optical shimmer and wavy illusionism of the drawings earned Mr. Pearson a place in the Museum of Modern Art’s The Responsive Eye , a 1965 exhibition that launched Op Art. He wasn’t pleased with the association, nor should he have been. The work, with its “romantic nuance” (to borrow the artist’s own phrase), has only a tenuous connection with the eye-popping gimmickry of Op Art. In the end, Mr. Pearson resembles Bridget Riley less than he does Myron Stout. That is to say, his pictures, though redolent of the world, are removed from it. Meticulously crafted, they strike a lonely, plaintive chord. Their eccentricity insures Mr. Pearson only a marginal berth in the history of American art; their fragile equilibrium guarantees him a permanence few major reputations can claim.
Henry Pearson: Selected Drawings 1959-1969 is at the Alexandre Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, until May 30.
Snarl, Twist and Prod
Bernard Chaet, whose recent pictures of the Massachusetts coastline are on display at David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, is a wonderful painter of rocks. Or is he a painter of wonderful rocks? Certainly, he thrives as an artist when depicting the nooks and crannies of boulders and stones. (He’s less certain when painting the intangible-clouds, sky, light, that kind of thing.) Taking their obdurate physicality as a pictorial challenge, Mr. Chaet loads his brush, places it upon the canvas and doesn’t daub so much as snarl, twist and prod. The paintings are crusty, their rhythms heavy and agitated. Deriving inspiration from seminal American Modernists such as John Marin and Marsden Hartley, Mr. Chaet is mindful of precedent-too mindful, maybe. He rarely achieves the flow of either of his heroes. The pictures strive earnestly, their coarseness being a stylistic choice, not a temperamental necessity.
The pictures feel strong-armed into fruition. This gives the work a certain urgency; it also puts the artist front and center. Mr. Chaet’s willfulness has its attractions-it’s hard not to admire his spirited attempts to tap into nature’s unconstrained beauty. One does wish, however, that he would follow the logic of his art and just get out of its way. On occasion, he does. When he brings the muscular intensity of his rocks to the totality of the landscape-when he transforms the heavens into one great geological occurrence-the pictures become more fully articulated, more completely themselves. Towards Night (1989-2002), Ochre Morning (1993-2002) and White Light (2002) are particularly fine. The capper is a magisterial skyscape with stucco-like facture and ringing blues, greens and pinks. Don’t be fooled-though it’s tucked away by the reception desk, Towards Day (1989-2002) is the star of the show.
Bernard Chaet: Cape Ann Light is at David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, 41 East 57th Street until May 24.