Postcards From the Edge: Lenaghan in Our Backyard

Who was it that said consistency is the surest indication of a little mind? Whoever it was hadn’t seen the exhibition of paintings by Andrew Lenaghan currently at the George Adams Gallery. Mr. Lenaghan is a realist painter whose subject is his own backyard, or rather our backyard: New York City. The New York he pictures isn’t the one we see on postcards or in tourist brochures. Mr. Lenaghan favors abandoned lots, shuttered factories and piers going to pot in north Brooklyn. The empathy he feels for these locales is clear–it’s there in the work’s bracing light and meticulous detailing–but don’t mistake him for a romantic. Mr. Lenaghan isn’t out to sentimentalize urban squalor; he just wants a place “to work with few interruptions.”

This approach points to a deep-rooted pragmatism, one that guarantees Mr. Lenaghan’s art its workaday consistency; it also renders the work more solid than stellar. Still, if there are few epiphanies to be had at Adams, neither is there a dud in the bunch, and one picture does stand out. Jane at the Computer (2001), a depiction of the artist’s wife at work in their Brooklyn brownstone, has a fullness to it that’s missing in the cityscapes. Perhaps hearth and home are where Mr. Lenaghan lets down his guard. Or maybe indoor light offers him a newfound challenge. What’s certain is that this painting brought out something more in Mr. Lenaghan. I wonder what the rest of his apartment looks like. Andrew Lenaghan: New Paintings is at the George Adams Gallery, 41 West 57th Street, until Jan. 26.

Irreconcilable Diptychs

Like a lot of contemporary abstract artists, Marjorie Welish is interested in reconciling the irreconcilable, in locating connections between (as the press release has it) “incommensurate logics.” Her recent geometric paintings, currently on display at the Baumgartner Gallery, pit order and solidity against irregularity and contingency. The left section of each two-panel work is devoted to the former, while the right section is given over to the latter. (One piece flip-flops this configuration.)

Ms. Welish’s use of the diptych format as a means of underscoring her “disjunctive contest” is patent to a fault; it’s too cut-and-dried to generate much in the way of sparks. Nor do the left-hand panels of her paintings gauge the difference between equilibrium and inertia. Her right-hand panels, however, perk the eye. In them, Ms. Welish fractures the pictorial field and discovers within it rhythms, rhymes and a space that’s all elbows and knees. These blocky networks recall crossword puzzles, Islamic tile work and the paintings of the American neo-plasticist Ilya Bolotowsky, an artist Ms. Welish might want to acquaint herself with. In doing so, she’ll discover that an understated brushstroke can have body, and that the independence of form bests the strictures of the intellect–at least when it comes to painting.

The more Ms. Welish gets her priorities straight, the better an artist she’ll be. If these recent efforts are any indication, she’s in the process of doing so even now. Marjorie Welish: With/Without is on display along with the site drawings of Peter Downsbrough at the Baumgartner Gallery, 418 West 15th Street, until Jan. 23.

Louis Finkelstein: A Life Worth Reliving

The late canvases of the American artist Louis Finkelstein (1923-2000) are on exhibit at the New York Studio School, and I can already hear the complaints coming in: that Finkelstein did little more than recycle the innovations of early Modernist painting; that his ambitions didn’t extend much beyond roughing up Matisse and detoxifying Soutine; that his art fails to turn (as I once heard a sculptor of note refer to it) “the great screw of history.” It is true that Mr. Finkelstein forged a path over well-trodden ground. Yet in an era when artists attempting to turn the screw of history only end up screwing the rest of us over, a figure like Finkelstein soothes like a balm.

His landscapes from Aix-en-Provence are flurries of fragrant color, unfettered but confident brushwork and, cumulatively, an enthusiastic homage to a life worth living. At their best–in Abstract Landscape (1999) and, as a close second, Bastian de Cézanne (2000)–the canvases locate a rollicking compromise between chaos and order, surface and depth. Carrying tradition as if he were throwing a knapsack over his shoulder, Finkelstein left the art of painting fundamentally unchanged, preferring instead to plug in to its fundamental joys. That choice was great for him; it’s certainly good for us. Louis Finkelstein is at the New York Studio School, 8 West Eighth Street, until Jan. 5. Postcards From the Edge: Lenaghan in Our Backyard