San Francisco

Joachim Probst

Grace Cathedral

Among the thousands of diverse activities that have existed in the world, the arts seem to have attracted more than their fair share of tragic personalities, such as Soutine or Tchaikovsky or Van Gogh. That in today’s bourgeois world there is at least one such figure roaming the streets of New York is almost absurdly incredible.

Probst, through delusion, or however these things work, is such an artist. An avowed follower of Rembrandt, painter of Christs, the man is necessarily obsessed, even tortured, with himself.

Probst’s expressionist paintings are homages to Probst and maybe that’s the only way it can be. But his ego, by transference, so obviously penetrates his subject matter, his juicy techniques and his identification with “great art,” that it’s difficult for the viewer to clear a path to the work of art itself without being prejudiced by the romance of the man’s colorful personality.

He is good. Even though his art is overly derivative, it is good. Probst’s profundity, however, seems bought at the cost of habit. It is usually contrived or wielded rather than expressed, even though the inspiration may be there. His paintings are resurrections. They are 20th century reminiscences about another time and not of another time. Hence, they become historical illustrations, sometimes astonishingly well painted, but too often resembling storytelling by Rembrandt, or some other giant, who did it better than Probst.

Where is Probst then? Despite an heroic surge of energy his commitment is paradoxically unfulfilled. There comes a time when we stand before a Rembrandt painting, forget all about who Rembrandt was, and allow his painting to live. Rembrandt was only a man. His art was the great thing. With Probst, we see, with rare exception, only Probst, or worse yet—Rembrandt. Were it not for this there might be greatness in his art. There certainly appears to be in the man. He is very much alive today. Perhaps there is time yet.

Arthur Secunda