PRINT July 1963

Review: Don Factor on Howard Warshaw

HOWARD WARSHAW, Felix Landau Gallery: In his exhibition of recent paintings, Howard Warshaw has chosen to disavow his century. In effect, he seems to have avoided the entire point of 20th century art, choosing to work outside of the formal, painterly and even philosophic mainstream. His subjects are, for the most part, painfully wrought people who are either undergoing or have recently undergone some extreme sort of agony. They are well executed (Warshaw is a fine draftsman) but are painted as though they had been magnified many times from some tiny detail of some obscure 16th or 17th century picture. The figures are often enshrouded in translucent, robe-like gar­ments, but these are handled as rather gratuitous painterly gestures. If his point is to project an image of man’s tragic situation or of art’s historic continuity, he falls well short of his goals. The image is generally lacking in scale, limiting whatever drama is inherent in the idea; too ambiguous, with no point of refer­ence in contemporary metaphysics or empathetic as­signment to contemporary man; and formally disinter­ested. His only concession to the picture plane is an occasional brushing-in of a foreground area or the envelopment of an isolated figure in a chalky kind of flat space.

The sophisticated viewer must necessarily see the work in terms of its many influences and be disturbed by its total disregard for contemporary attitudes and the most important painting of the past seventy or eighty years.

To assume a safe, conventional style in order to concentrate more fully on one’s image-idea is certainly valid, but Warshaw appears unable to make up his mind. The paintings, particularly those of human subjects are fraught with excess, as if the artist were attempting to work through his personal problems with the very unsatisfactory medium of paint. Where he avoids the figure, though, and concentrates on such subjects as sea birds, still lites and interpre­tations of old masters, his pictures become more nearly pure and direct. The excessive gestures and melodramatic conceits tend to disappear, and the paintings become, if not major, at least visually inter­esting for their excellent craft and never displeasing use of color. At best, Warshaw can be said to present a concise picture of the conceptual weaknesses of current academic approaches to figure painting.

––Don Factor