Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wellsprings of a Soul

Wellsprings of a Soul

By Tom Wachunas

“Do not copy nature too much. Art is an abstraction.” – Paul Gauguin –

“The best, most compelling Abstract or Nonrepresentational paintings are nothing more, or less, than masterfully decorated Reality.” – June Godwit –

“Abstract literally means to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract…” – Richard Diebenkorn –

“Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was.” – Jackson Pollock –

In his highly informative and warmly written Repository article (Monday, March 28) about the current exhibit of paintings by David Grant Roth, who died in 1995, at Second April Galerie, Gary Brown begins by calling Roth’s art “almost lyrical.” It made me wonder what ‘completely lyrical’ art might look like in comparison. Later in the piece we are told that the works “…weren’t abstracts, really. Roth called them ‘non-representational’…” It all made me think of how we – artists, academicians, and viewers alike - often struggle, perhaps fruitlessly, with fine-tuning our descriptors in modern art. You say tomato and I say…

Seriously, though, Brown’s article is a fond homage to the man’s very full and accomplished life, with remembrances from his widow, Bonnie Barton, and daughter, Repository columnist Diana Boggia. Both will be present at the gallery for a special celebration of Roth’s life and work on Thursday, March 31, from 6 to 9 p.m., and the work will remain on view through April. If you’re of a mind to cruise the web (, your homework assignment is to read Brown’s article, then come downtown to see the exhibit.

And what a show this is! Billed here as more than 20 “larger than life” (another one of those pesky, sufficiently vague modernist descriptors) canvases in oil, they are indeed appropriately large enough to not merely grab our attention, but fully surround and embrace it as well. And yes, with all due respect to Mr. Brown, as much as any ‘Color Field’ abstracts as I’ve ever seen (marginally reminiscent of some by Paul Jenkins, Morris Louis, or Helen Frankenthaler, among others), they are utterly, unabashedly, positively lyrical. Lyrical in the same way that sunlight coming through a window, and focused through multiple hanging crystals, will break up into prisms that dance on a white wall. Or lyrical in the same way that a rippled puddle or pond reflects a spectacular sunset sky dotted with big clouds.

Call them metaphysical eye poems. Or maybe fountains of contemplative breath. As Jack the Dripper observed about his own work in one of the quotes that head this post, these paintings are ethereal explorations of continuous, undulating motion – no beginning, no end. But unlike the dense, visceral physicality that characterizes so many Abstract Expressionist works from Pollock’s era (and beyond), there is no evidence here of labored brushwork, no impasto urgency, no angst-riddled surfaces. The quietly luminous paint - pooled, blended, gently stained – seems to have been simply willed into place.

Larger than life? Well-meaning hyperbole, perhaps. More to the point, as all truly beautiful paintings can do, these works enlarge our lives.

Photo, courtesy Second April Galerie, : “Once Released, Forever Free,” oil, by David Grant Roth, on view through April, 324 Cleveland Avenue. NW, downtown Canton. (330) 451 - 0924

1 comment:

Brennis Booth said...

Thank you Thomas! Your words are MUCH appreciated!!!