Eric Holzman’s Crying Sky Channels the Old Masters

Sometimes scale is everything. Three years ago, the Tibor de Nagy Gallery exhibited a group of small paintings by Eric

Sometimes scale is everything. Three years ago, the Tibor de Nagy Gallery exhibited a group of small paintings by Eric Holzman, moody deliberations on the conventions of Renaissance art. Currently, the Jason McCoy Gallery is showing recent landscapes by Mr. Holzman that now find him pursuing the same tangent-except for one thing: The paintings are big.

Mr. Holzman’s investment in surface, in creating a fine and nubbly patina, is paramount to his ambition of tapping into the authority of the Old Masters he so clearly loves. Moving deliberately, Mr. Holzman’s brush is motivated by tradition-burdened by it, too. Within the confines of a small canvas (there are examples at McCoy), the touch feels hemmed in and succumbs to a fussy nostalgia. When painting upon a large expanse of canvas, Mr. Holzman’s approach is made vital and vigorous. Having to step back from the canvas while working provides for the artist a critical distance that does wonders for the paintings. Suddenly Mr. Holzman’s art is less a reliquary to Western civilization than a world given air, space and light.

Just barely, though. A negotiation between illusion and material is part and parcel of the painter’s craft. Mr. Holzman brings to this endeavor an intensity all his own. Though claiming to have realist aspirations, he’s equivocal about images. Trees, figures and “a girl watching a duck take flight” are engulfed rather than delineated by scrabbled arabesques of oil paint. The upshot of this emphatic physicality, oddly enough, is weightless, ephemeral. The paintings are elusive and a bit frustrating-like memories you can’t quite get a hold of.

But that’s all to the good: Better Mr. Holzman giving grit and body to fleeting sensations than falling victim to a self-consciousness that is his greatest liability. He doesn’t altogether avoid it here: The gridded charcoal lines flitting underneath the paint is an affectation-indeed, a distraction-that should be jettisoned ASAP. On the whole, however, Mr. Holzman’s love affair with art and culture continues to salutary effect.

Eric Holzman: The Sky Is Crying is at Jason McCoy Inc., 41 East 57th Street, until Aug. 27.

Blurred Aureole

“You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” is the likely response to the abstract paintings of Peter Flaccus, on display at the Zabriskie Gallery. Each of the 17 paintings is devoted to a single motif: a blurred circle of color and light, an aureole that, depending on the individual painting, expands or contracts, dissipates or coalesces. This phenomenon-“image” is too concrete a word here-brings to mind sunspots or microcellular life forms. Slow, sensual and yielding, the paintings pulse with a preternatural delicacy. Credit goes to the artist’s way with encaustic: His surfaces are lustrous and smooth, hands-off-the paintings seem medium-free. Gerhard Richter ain’t got nothing on Mr. Flaccus when creating photographic effects.

His palette runs the gamut and, as such, seems expert and arbitrary rather than felt-the exception being the resonant pinks and greens of Pink Fan (2003). Mr. Flaccus’ dependence on technique can’t help but limit the scope and possibility of his art; he’s painted himself into an exquisite corner. Still, if one of these things were hanging over the fireplace, you’d be happy it was there.

Peter Flaccus: Recent Paintings is at the Zabriskie Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, until Aug. 20.

Eye Test

Mariana Cook, whose photographs are on display at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, may have been a student of Ansel Adams, but she follows in the footsteps of Aaron Siskind-that is to say, she creates abstract pictures by disassociating the everyday from its context. The top of an eggplant, a sliver of light on the floor and the roof of the 92nd Street Y-Ms. Cook renders her sources elegantly indistinct. Coming in close with the camera or carefully cropping an image, Ms. Cook wants to test the eye, flummox it a bit. She succeeds in this endeavor with Clouds, Lambert’s Cove (1999), a depiction of the heavens that is compacted, woolly and dense. Construction Tarp (1999), with its abrupt and expansive shapes, is good, too. But even these high points suffer from a want of pictorial ingenuity.

Content to reiterate the dualism between recognizable objects and “in the abstract,” Ms. Cook doesn’t show us anything we didn’t already know. The photographs coast on received pictorial tropes. They’re handsome, certainly, and adept, too, but mostly they’re easy to ignore. Would that Mitchell-Innes & Nash devoted its resources to mounting an exhibition of the photographs of Ellsworth Kelly-works that tread the same aesthetic terrain, but do so with less obfuscation and considerably more snap. Now that would be a show to look at.

Mariana Cook: In the Abstract is at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 1018 Madison Avenue until Aug. 20. Eric Holzman’s Crying Sky Channels the Old Masters