Thomas Nozkowski’s Untitled (6–69), 1989. Photo: Pace Gallery.

Thomas Nozkowski (1944–2019)

Painter Thomas Nozkowski, whose little, lyrical abstractions evoked large and shifting themes—from memory and nature to cosmology—has died at seventy-five years old. Though they suggested tangible, recognizable forms and were rendered in precise lines, his canvases’ subjects remained elusive, often intimating several things at once, from Symbolism to the writings of Gustave Flaubert. In contrast to the unbridled ego and scale of Abstract Expressionism, Nozkowski favored sixteen-by-twenty-inch canvas boards usually left untitled or named only in code numbers.

“Art is often said to put language to the test, and rarely is that quite as true as in the case of Nozkowski’s paintings,” Barry Schwabsky wrote in the May 2000 issue of Artforum. “Their structures are so finely articulated, their organization so fluent, that they give the strong impression of being underpinned by a most precise yet somehow ungraspable discourse.”

Born in 1944 into a working-class family in New Jersey, Nozkowski graduated from the Cooper Union in New York in 1967 and began showing early sculptural work at Betty Parsons Gallery before transitioning to painting. He made his solo debut in 1979 and has since been the subject of over seventy solo shows. In 2007, he was included in the Robert Storr–curated main exhibition of the Venice Biennale. His work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Morgan Library and Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

In Artforum’s first review of Nozkowski’s work in the May 1981 issue, Joseph Masheck wrote: “His is a painting of rich, non-exploitative, imaginative fullness that replenishes itself naturally after each act of generosity.”