Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tom Nozkowski, at the Pace Gallery, Through December 4th

I'm not sure when the Pace Gallery took over this location, but thank god they did. It's a big beautiful space in a prime area, and the previous owners (I don't remember their name) put on some of the crappiest shows I've seen in Chelsea. It was frustrating to see what a waste of good resources that was. I don't know what they were thinking, or how they could afford such a great space when they were so clearly unqualified, but I guess it's just proof that you can't buy taste or talent, try as they did. Anyway, I guess their gone, so on to the show.
Tom Nozkowski is an unusual nonrepresentational painter, and a veteran of the genre. When I say unusual, I don't mean that his style of painting is without precedent. It's not. In fact he's obviously very aware of the tradition he's taking part in. It's just that the tradition is usually more closely aligned with representational than nonrepresentational painting. There is a school of early 20th century American abstract painting that he seems to be referencing. It's the school that artists like Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, and Patrick Henry Bruce were members of. But, he's taking that tradition in a different direction. The reasons his work is unusual when compared to more modern abstract painting are several. For one, his scale is modest (all paintings in the show are 22"x28"), not tiny or precious in size, but pretty much standard easel painting dimensions. This runs contrary to the traditions of monumental, arena like painting established by the abstract expressionists 60 some years ago. Also, unlike most nonrepresentational painting Nozkowski doesn't make the physicality or the application of the paint an issue. There are some shifts in transparency and opacity of the pigment, but it's subtle. Equally subtle are the shifts between symmetry and asymmetry, and soft and hard edge forms. The work also varies from quite beautiful to downright ugly. But, I don't think aesthetics are high on his list of priorities. More interestingly though, there's something about the way he paints that looks like he's working representational, or maybe metaphorically (if that makes any sense). He has a certain vocabulary of forms, and while he's clearly working intuitively, or non objectively, there's something about them that feels rendered, as opposed to being the product of some spontaneous painterly event. Part of that may come from the way that the forms are cropped, or the fairly clear cut figure ground relationship that seem to also reference the use of composition with figurative images. other figurative characteristics are the occasional horizon lines, or shadow like shapes that rest at an angle below brighter more pronounced forms. It's all a way of embracing certain traditions in order to react against others.
What makes this different from other Nozkowski shows is that next to each painting is a smaller, framed drawing (all 8"x 10") that are all clearly related to the painting beside them. The presumption is then that they are preparatory studies for the paintings. This would be incorrect. In fact they are made after the painting is finished, and are used, as Nozkowski puts it, as "cool down exercises". Nozkowski, in the tradition of most nonobjective abstract painters, never believed in preparatory drawing, fearing that it would limit or stifle the progress of the painting. To the best of my knowledge, the tradition of artists making drawings from their own completed paintings is small, but not unheard of.   I know Corot did it, and so did Van Gogh. There may be others I'm not aware of, but I've never before heard of the practice used as a "cool down exercise".  It's very challenging to tradition, and it makes me think about the role, identity and possibilities of drawing as related to painting. These are pretty bold, and heady objectives for such seemingly humble work.   Clearly brains and balls work well together.


  1. Hi Gomaar, good post but I an curious about the second to last sentence. I am not sure what you mean by "identity" and "possibilities?" Do drawing have an identity? And possibilities,how does making a drawing of the painting after make new possibilities. It is just change in order. The study or the drawing is a work in itself, the painting is another rendering in a different medium. Is it not? It is intellectually intriguing.

  2. On the NYT's website there are great photos of the work. The work is really good. Here is the link. You may have to copy and paste: