PRINT April 1973

His Latest Work

WALTER DARBY BANNARD showed nine paintings from 1972 at the Lawrence Rubin Gallery during January. All are in an ingratiatingly decorative mode, turning on an idea of overlapping, highly plastic, wetlook strokes that obviously and deliberately relates to Olitski. Here, however, the juiciness is as much a matter of texture and sheen as of the choice of colors or of an attachment to a flattening scrape that mows down the wet pigment. The result is more readily charming than Olitski, and almost slushy in its involvement with both the crushed slickness of the swiped stroke and the heavy residual deposits that squeeze out and peak in between.

The way these strokes sluice about, meandering in smooth transverse ripples, reminds me of Vlaminck. But it also shares in a specifically American modern tradition of heavy stroking that extends back through men like Luks and Henri to Manet and, beyond, to Hals. The colors are like those of Bannard’s previous paintings, neo-Rococo in taste. If the gestural strokes evoke the fine art of the 1950s, the colors are, in a curious way, analogous to the popular taste of the same period––combinations like pink and baby blue (Sumatra) or raspberry and ice blue (Periodic).

Because the pathlike lines are defined by their concrete, plastic ridges, with an almost vacuumlike flatness within the troughs, they are actually more like evidences of strokes––painterly vapor trails––than strokes in themselves. Ironically, the privilege of tangible plasticity is reserved for the nonstrokes that squirt up in between.

In the organization of the strokes into patterns some of the things that Bannard writes about are obviously on his mind. The strokes, for instance, tend to be oriented vertically on the canvas, which means that those on the ends have a chance to relate to the edges, implying or generating borders by stopping short of the edge and allowing a contrasting color to intervene. The top and bottom are more problematic. These upper and lower edges are often taken into account by making single horizontal strokes at these extremities and allowing the primary (predominantly vertical) strokes to drive over those punctuating strokes and fuse them into the pigmental fabric. The particular determinants of the composition vary from picture to picture, however. In one painting, Saskatoon, the wavering strokes originate from a local area centered near the top, hanging down in a streamerlike way that may relate to Morris Louis; these strokes, of a soupy greenish or bluish brown, have pink and blue highlights in what Doctor Johnson called “the interstices between the intersections.”

The thick but widely spaced “highlights” can seem to have a certain independence from the surface clung to by the flat-bottomed paint troughs, which produces an effect that is all the more unexpected in the face of the creamy, tongue-teasing delectation of the colors. What happens is that pattern is affirmed by the impalpable “evidence strokes,” while the squeezed-out blobs play against the pattern in a random but assertive counterpoint.

––Joseph Masheck