PRINT Summer 1969

Allan Hacklin, David Diao, Donald Kaufman


ALLAN HACKLIN, DAVID DIAO, AND DONALD KAUFMAN are three relatively unknown New York painters who number among a larger group of young artists such as Ralph Humphrey, Dan Christensen,1 Kenneth Showell, David Paul, Alan Shields, and others who have been exploring a new kind of painted expressiveness which, though varied in appearance, is definitely in reaction to the major trends of sixties painting (hard-edge geometrics, stained color-field, deductive structuring, Op, Pop, etc.). Attempting to register their changing attitudes about art as a mode or quality of attention without necessarily undermining the notion of the picture as a discrete and particularly artificial kind of esthetic object, these painters are nevertheless concerned with establishing a kind of visual impact which opposes itself to the structural literalness, aggressive optical and coloristic brilliance, or obdurate formalism which has been the lexicon of painters like Noland, Stella, Frankenthaler, Poons, Louis, Held, Kelly, Olitski, and others who gained prominence in the last decade.

The three artists discussed here have not entirely abandoned some form of diagrammatic structuring (characteristic of some of the previous art), nor have they rejected the sumptuousness of either color or surface. But a new and ambivalently perceived order, filtered through color formulated as a disembodied, aerated radiance or through a restrained lyricism, is substituted for the visual, intellectual, and formal density of works by some of the older artists mentioned. Affects are no longer achieved in terms of that immediate and gripping gestalt confrontation of image, form, or color which has been emphasized in much of the pictorial or three-dimensional work of the sixties. Instead of being asserted with a gripping or all-encompassing immediacy, the picture itself is established with much lower voltage and less tension—in subtle, sometimes nearly invisible ways which elicit an attenuated perception, spaced out in time. This new kind of circumspect, inverted, more timed sensuousness is another current alternative to the ascetic restraint or undetailed, weighty impact of Minimal art. Interest has been shifted to more ambiguous areas of perceiving through light radiation, chromatic temperature changes, elusive spatiality and illusive tactility. While careful consideration is still given to the picture as an artifice—as still patently dependent upon and emerging from its specific illusions—the drift is away from unmediated frontality or openness as such, towards a more cerebralized painterliness, more reticent but also more coolly relaxed, even offhand, about being painterly and expressionistic. Overt metrical structures may be apparent, but they are also made to disappear either in an effulgence of soft burning light (Hacklin), through precisely balanced and delicately modulated colors (Kaufman), or by a freehand but deftly qualified and incorporealized kind of texture or gesturing (Diao). Although the organizational devices and pictorial dimensions may be diffused and obscured by these effects, a certain amount of explicitness is also made to counteract a merely amorphous or chance indeterminacy. Decorativeness may be accepted in and of itself without the pejorative connotations the term has acquired in recent criticism and parlance. Further generalizations are self-defeating, however; the work of these artists differs greatly one from the other and each must be looked at separately.


ALLAN HACKLIN is 26, was born and grew up in Harlem, and graduated from Pratt Institute, where he studied under George McNeil and Richard Lindner and Constructivist Lucien Krukowski. His student paintings were competent Abstract Expressionist trials, but more native to his own thinking were a later series of pictures in which simple geometric objects suspended Surrealistically in space were seen in a contradictory volumetric perspective. A further development of this vein comprised fields afloat with irregular or staggered chevron stripes, rectangular shafts and blocks in bright chromey orange, red, navy blue, or white, and diagonally played off against the sides of pale grey-green oil painted grounds. Slight spatial ambiguities were already apparent in these works, as well as in a group of “light box” paintings done in late 1966, when Hacklin was still finding himself ill at ease with strong color and with the weight and volume of the visual structures. He felt increasingly belabored by the painstaking brushed modulations of oil paint, and at this point he switched over to sprayed acrylic in order to attain the kind of atomized radiance of his current work.

Hacklin accepts an almost saccharine prettiness as one of his main working premises, but in his most successful paintings he manages to overcome the merely pretty. He uses a range of color which admittedly evokes pearlescent nail polish and eye makeup, cosmetic blushes, 1940s silk pajamas, and bandbox tints, but he disdains the Pop attitude of making such banal constituents more banal by a calculated and self-conscious intellectual treatment of them. Still involved with more abstract concepts of equivocal space and with finding his own brand of color expression, Hacklin, in October 1967, began some rectangular paintings of vertical lines and grids with the idea of making a glowing, sometimes shaft-like haze radiate from within these slender linear elements through a more uniform ground color. The format seemed wrong, however; he wanted to control both the frontality and the obliqueness of this illuminating chromatic expansion without the strong figure-field relationships which had become too evident. The rectangular shape of these earlier works also forced Hacklin to think too specifically in terms of composition, which does not interest him as much as does the use of color and the regulation of light as a focused thermostatic factor. He plays a soft haziness and powdery diffusion against sharp delineation and a sometimes acidic coloring, though harsh contrasts and light-dark modeling are eliminated by his spraying technique and by the general choice of colors. A changeover to the square format got rid of both the constriction and the window-like suggestions which had dissatisfied Hacklin, and he began a series of extraordinarily lovely paintings whose refinement has occupied him most of 1968 and early 1969.

To characterize these works in general: they are square fields crossed by stacked diagonal stripes (three-quarters of an inch wide) which are graded in hue from the two borders they touch, and as they pass through the center. There are no Day-glo pigments or iridescent suspensions used in the acrylic, which is sprayed onto a primed ground. The field itself is imperceptibly graded so as to create a centralized squarish cloud which seems to burn through, or even simultaneously lie above, yet is also coincident with the bands. The cool overall glow of light accounts for this confusion of optical and spatial planes. Where the color of the stripes as they traverse the center of the painting is the same as the color of the wider “ground” channels around the edges of a picture, the effect is strangely cerebral. It is as if the image and its tinted light had arrived (already perceived) within the brain without having first passed through the mediation of the eyes. Sometimes phosphorescent framing after-images seem to echo the central cloud and edge it with more intense flashes, like heat lightning. Depending on the color balance, the cloud may look negative to the stripes or the stripes may read as slightly more negative than the cloud—but this may change within each single painting and the changes might be better viewed or conceived of in terms of a two-way electrical circuit reversal, rather than as a figure-field contrast. Hacklin is careful to avoid the kind of color valuing which would make the bars look like Venetian blind slats through which the eye might fall backwards into a spatial pocket. The illusion of such deep space is minimized (though spatiality itself is not precluded) by the way in which the diagonal bands are made to run half or one inch short of the actual limits of the canvas, so that the image is candidly set in some artifice of extremely shallow space, or coated on a colored surface. At first the edges were bordered with bands, but this too obviously suggested a pictorial window, so the bands were removed in later works. This abrupt elision of the stripes also emphasizes the explicitness of the picture’s artificiality, of its willfully designated physical boundaries, in contrast to its luminous chromatic pulsations.

Hacklin often drives his colors as far as he can into the icky, candied, and pretty; then he is forced to rescue them from a pasty density which may (though infrequently) result. An impressionistic list of the hues he typically favors may give some idea of this problem: almond cream, satiny peach, powdery apricot, iridescent chiffon blues, lavenders or greys, cosmetic pinks and plum taupes, pale yellow, pistachio green and chartreuse, burnished strawberry-bronze, etc., etc. In a painting like Barracuda I he manages to keep both color and configuration on the most subtly radiant level, sweeping a pale pinkish-white field with stripes of lavender edged with blue, which diffuse a slow, icy, visual burn. Others like Sweet Sue are more saturated in color and draw more attention to the flickering contrast between the central cloud and the fluorescence of the bars. Hacklin has experimented with molding a greater sense of volume around the bars (Soft Circus) but this has not worked as successfully as pictures like Milan W,2 which is at once a light and a dark painting with its stripes appearing to glow faintly from behind themselves. Here an echo of rose is the surprising exhalation of crisp blue and lavender bars passing through a cloud of filmy buff-grey.

In some of the most recent works the aim has been to either veil color, so that a quiet inward pulsation seems to motivate the iconic square cloud, or to make the sides act more forcefully upon it; the bars are tentatively being superseded by complex herringbone webs. Polly Snow Queen (recently exhibited in a group show at the Betty Parsons Gallery) has this more keyed-up balance. Its lime-yellow bars running through a pale blue and lavender aura are transformed into an almost neon aqua in the center of the field. This aqua makes the citrus color of the bars, when they move nearer to the edges of the canvas, transmit vibrantly, as though another aura were circuiting the cloud. This strongly sensed optical pressure also reinforces the centrality of the image, while the high-frequency operation of the color points to its lateral gradations from edge to center to edge. Hacklin works quickly and restlessly, though he is tenacious in exploring each problem until it seems concretely resolved in a number of paintings. He is not content with an easy virtuosity, and if anything mars the already rich and exceedingly rapid development of his work in the past year, perhaps it is only his intense self-consciousness about what he hopes to achieve in each picture.


AT THE AGE OF 25 David Diao has received no formal art training other than the four years he has spent living in New York and finding a way through his own painting. He feels that his current work is a clear, but still constrained, even conservative reaction to color-field painters like Noland, although the latter’s bull’s-eye paintings had an influence on some of Diao’s first “X” paintings. In 1965 to 1966 he worked on softly metallic Rothko-esque pictures whose dark blending pillars were osmotically layered with complementary colors. By 1967 Diao had chosen to work with fewer, even more consciously academic variables in a series of square paintings whose two diagonals graphed the field with a large X. Cool-warm transparencies interested him most at this time, as did the simplicity of the centered, equally stressed, almost imageless organization of the canvas. In the paintings which he has made since the summer of 19673 Diao has been occupied with surface and its light-reflecting properties which are played up through loose, though somewhat systematized allover gesturing and an extremely subdued, modulated range of neutral colors.

Diao’s canvases are usually dark monochromatic grounds in silvery or dry earthy tones (like coffee, putty white, amber mauve, beige green, rust, brick red, teal blue, aqua, lavender grey, sand pink, or mustard ochre) with touches of lighter diluted color brushed and soaked into the wet grounds. They are reminiscent of finely tempered Chinese pottery glazes or silk embroideries, and this is not far-fetched in terms of the artist’s own experience or sensibility, since he lived in China until he was about 12. The rectangular fields are marked by four to seven vertical, or three to four horizontal divisions (sometimes with a few diagonals crossing the corners) which are the register of the stretcher bars behind the taut canvas fabric. Diao accepts these visible registers as a literal underpinning which rids his work of any deliberately designed kind of hard-edged or configurational interior drawing. Their regularized phasing serves as a physically secured contrast to the freeness and casualness of the more illusory painted strokes. He does not plan to have the stretchers constructed in any specific way, but leaves a painting’s design to the chances of its size and the corresponding demands of the armature.

Wavy brush trails, mottled undulations, zigzags, or cloudy blottings are almost invisibly absorbed into the ground colors, yet their markings and sedimentations create a multi-layered but suspended and shallowly compressed kind of space which leaves open to question the location of any one layer of paint or space in relation to any other. This surface hazing, which from certain angles looks like shop-window glass streaked with dried cleaning wax, is also the light-reflecting medium of the pictures. There is often a great disparity between the view of a painting from a directly frontal position and from a more oblique angle: varying degrees of actual absorption in the painting itself as well as differences in the transparency and opacity of the pigment create a richly changing and elusive surface. The liquidity of these patterns is frequently offset by the tertiary dryness of the colors. Diao usually begins by painting wet-into-wet, but later he may sand down the canvas, overpaint with his hands as well as brushes, or wash more color into the alternately hard or soft looking surfaces which end by resembling fragile, weathered finishes. But these are purely optical surfaces which somehow are not sensed as tactile or palpable. Although it is evident that Diao is involved. with texture, he creates what is only the illusion of both surface and texture—which curiously avoid outright assertion of themselves as surface or texture. Ode is a taffy-colored painting with a more scraped looking, harder surface, but under certain lighting conditions it can appear as pearly as the more intentionally lyrical works like White Fang Silver Heels with its short swishy strokes flowing through long horizontal zones, or Aqueduct, a seven-register wide rectangle shimmering like a pool with its liquefied aqua-white waves and ripples.

Sometimes the gentle suffusion and ease of the gesturing is vitiated by the rigidity or even the sheer quantity of the stretcher marks, though their repeated vertical courses provide an organization which combats suggestions of atmosphere or landscape in the texturing. When these linear elements are horizontal they tend to pull the shallow separation and shuffling of space which occurs between a darker ground and the lighter streaks back up to the surface plane. There is a nice ambivalence here between the control of spatial or structural constituents and the extemporaneous, though graceful, expressive means.


DONALD KAUFMANN IS 33 and is a Midwesterner by birth and education, though most of his painting has been done in New York. His work before 1965 was semi-figurative with Surreal subjective and formal overtones. Ladder-like images were often used in these spatially abstruse compositions. His first wholly abstract canvases contained checkerboard squares in multiple tones of grey and beige, which were expanded through 1966–67 into big staggered rectangular stairs and flat intersecting blocks, still neutral in hue and close in value within any given picture, but more spatially plastic and more visible than Ad Reinhardt’s red and blue paintings of the early fifties, which are their historical precedents.4 Thin horizontal bars in brighter lime, or pungent rose and yellow colors were more confectionary and experimental compared to the austerity of the larger rectangular canvases. painted in the dove greys, cream beiges, soft buffs and ochres, steel blues, pale hospital greens, and smoky rose-mauves he still employs in his current work.

Kaufman aims to control space without depicting it, and to this end he uses a severely limited color scheme, circumscribed in tonality and range, but balanced in a way that subtly activates and inflects the planes within, around, and beyond the painted field. In his most recent work Kaufman has made his format devices more recondite and virtually invisible through a complicated and close keying of color: but the visibility of these now more erratically organized, non-hierarchical fields becomes the function of a certain kind of timing. One is made acutely aware of the limitations imposed on both format and color only after a considerable amount of viewing time and attention. The heat and strength of exterior lighting may make important differences in the degree to which both surface relief and the intricacy of the image and coloration become apparent.

In his paintings of 1968 and 1969 Kaufman sectors horizontally rectangular or square fields with X-ing or V’d single and double bars which partially edge the canvas, intersect, or form cropped parallelograms, rhomboids, triangles, and smaller rectangles as they crisscross through the nearly monochrome ground tints. The bars do not look divisive in the normal graphic sense, however, since they are painted with the same evenly modulated keying as the broader areas of the field. While these field areas are often closer to each other in hue (gradations of a lavender grey, ochre beige, or a dusky pink, for instance), the parallel and diagonally crossing bars may be more variegated with contrasting green, blue, mustard brown or plum colors abutted meticulously. Sometimes the bands themselves do not occupy enough space in proportion to the full size of a picture, so that as they fall out of scale and begin to look incidental (especially when seen from a distance), they correspondingly fail to galvanize the tenuous space which Kaufman is trying to manipulate. A certain stiff inertness which comes from fussily over-organizing, or contriving a field, may also dull the soft luminosity of the chromatic adjustments which body forth the format. Though he tends to use his colors more as visual properties than as the primary expressive vehicles of his painting, their quiet expansiveness is both integral and instrumental to the spatiality of the works. It is only when a finicky structural syntax impedes that a condition of dry stasis sets in.

Some of the more complex and successful paintings such as Topeka, Downer’s Grove, Rotation, and Triballoon admirably fulfill Kaufman’s spatial aims with their elusory parallaxing surfaces. The orientation of the bars is either asymmetrical within a field, or they are graphed off-axis to the canvas edges, which makes them seem to lie obliquely to its surface. The whole structure which is otherwise flattened out by the monochromatic tonality of the colors is then cast tangential to the actual visible surface; the bars sometimes look as if they are extending into the spaces where they do not actually continue (like fleeting imaginary projections), and the sectored areas overlap or deflect from each other like shingling. When the X’d or V’d bars are anchored more conventionally along the upper, lower, or side edges of the field they hold the surface more firmly to the plane. In Triballoon the plaid-like, though irregular, pattern of pale greenish greys and pinked greens exists on the surface of the canvas with a peculiar concreteness (as many as six to twenty coats are painted onto each area), but the discontinuity of the bars makes the partial diamond, parallelogram, or triangular sections blink, shuffle, or fade out of focus, as if behind a temporal smoke screen. At some moments this evokes a strangely spaceless kind of relief which is almost exclusively optical. Rotation is a harmony of pink-brown mauves and greyed lavenders with olive, lime, and taupe bars forming the kind of distorted or parallaxed surface mentioned above. The movement is never a push-pull fluctuation—it is a distinctly lateral or oblique passage which is more elliptical and indistinct than the precision of both technique and organization would imply. Though it is too often assumed that maturity should not be expected from the work of younger artists, Hacklin, Diao and Kaufman all exhibit an extraordinary degree of sophistication and self-awareness in work which is not lacking in depth, focus, or originality. All of the three are positively critical and cognizant of their sources, innovations, and historical precedents, yet their paintings have a freshness which, though still cautious and exploratory in some cases, speaks well for the always hazardous enterprise and difficult conditions of being a young painter in New York.

Emily Wasserman


1. See Max Kozloff, “Light as Surface,” on Dan Christensen and Ralph Humphrey, in Artforum, February, 1968.

2. Most of these paintings were exhibited in March and April at the Galerie Willer in Stuttgart, Germany, this year. Hacklin has not had a one-man show in New York as of this date, though he has been included in group showings here and in Canada.

3. Some of these and more recent paintings were exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in February, 1969.

4. Shown at the Richard Feigen Gallery, September, 1967. See my review of this exhibition in Artforum, November, 1967, p. 60.