PRINT January 1967

David Novros in L. A.

BORN IN LOS ANGELES IN 1941, David Novros studied at the University of California and for a short period in 1961, at Yale University. He moved to New York in 1964, and exhibited that year in a two-man exhibition (with Mark di Suvero) at the Park Place Gallery. His first one-man exhibition was recently presented at the Dwan Gallery, in Los Angeles. The works shown consisted of five paintings spanning 1964 to 1966.

Novros’s paintings are designed and constructed in such a manner that the intervals between the various canvas shapes that make up a single painting are re-echoed on the wall space. He sets up a figure-ground relationship by making the gallery wall a very important feature of the painting. Frank Stella made the first move in this direction, but Stella does not consider his paintings as sculptural objects in the same way that Novros does. Stella paintings, for example, finish at the framing edge, whereas Novros extends his painting around the framing edge. Mondrian, of course, also did this, but Novros very deliberately requires his painting neither to be read as sculpture nor as painting, but as something in between. The Constructivists used the word “relief” to describe this type of work, but the very large scale of Novros’s work, which relates to Pollock rather than Mondrian, makes the use of this word unsatisfactory.

Because they seem to float rather than to hang on the wall, Novros’s paintings appear to defy gravity. This feeling is accentuated by the manner in which they are lighted from above. The lighting, in fact, becomes an element in the painting; the broad, flat surfaces glittering, the thickness of the stretcher shapes casting a heavy shadow below and at the side of the forms. The top lighting creates a halation as it hits the deeply indented top surface of the canvas. Larger in size than the normal arc of vision of an observer standing immediately in front, the cast shadows, the halation, the front surface glitter, continuously appear to change each time the observer alters position. The controlled illumination of the surrounding areas of wall also change the amount of light reflected according to the position of the observer Novros uses a vinyl lacquer mixed with Murano pigment on the broad front surfaces, which are painted more or less the same tone as the wall. The crystalline structure of the Murano pigment emanates a simultaneously changing reddish and greenish, pearly color glitter. This variation of surface glitter does not seem to be important; it neither adds to nor detracts from the painting in any significant way. It is true that Novros may consider that the use of this color glitter helps to define the surface of the painting, to differentiate it from the wall, but the texture of the canvas and the observer’s awareness of the stretcher shape does this in any event. The use of the Murano pigment serves to make the surface of the painting a little unreal, or illusionistic.

Novros works with forms that are broken down into units. They are not, however, modular forms; each unit, although somewhat similar, is distinctly different in size and shape. In each painting shown he exploits one distinct family of forms. All of his elements are basically rectilinear, showing no interest in curves. Although Novros’s paintings seem to operate off a central axis, his work is never symmetrical or static. He is still concerned with the use of composition, and uses his forms to create dynamic emblems.

One of the most important notions behind Lawrence Alloway’s “Systemic” exhibition is that those artists who become involved with the use of system place themselves in the position of being able to make more emphatic moves. In short, they use system because it gives more answers than it withholds. Novros’s use of system, however, is very closed, inverted or oblique. He substitutes composition for system. Stella, for example, is obviously a systemic artist; his use of system is not only very open, but highly productive––he builds on his system rather than remaining within it. In comparison, Novros seems to subvert system to the production of romantic symbols, totems or icons. As a result, Novros’s work has not changed in the four years of painting shown; there is no essential difference between the first painting and the last. (Stella, although emphatically systematic in his approach, is also inclined toward the romantic, particularly in his use of color and the sloppy finish of the sides of his canvases, but he never allows his romantic impulses to interfere with his growth as an artist.)

1964 is a very surprising date for the earliest work in the exhibition, quite radical and advanced for so young a painter. It is also interesting to note that Novros predates by at least one year Ron Davis’s move in a similar direction. But Novros does not seem to be able, at this point in his career, to make any further decisions as to what direction his art should take.

It would appear that he has decided to hold off making any further decisions, to play a waiting game. Obviously, both Stella and Donald Judd (and more recently, Carl Andre) are making the most important moves in this area of current painting and sculpture. Stella, for example, has suddenly re-introduced composition into his recent work, but in a very eccentric manner. Novros’s caution, particularly in a painter so young, does not detract either from his position, or the excellent quality of his work.

––John Coplans