San Francisco

Karl Kasten

Lanyon Gallery

Kasten is showing a series of rich, juicy oil paintings with an image that is usually suspended in the center of the canvas. In some of the paintings the motif is tipped on its side so that it leans to either the right or left edge of the support. A common linear device is used to tie the image down: sometimes it’s an inch-wide gestural stroke (Vulcan’s Domain), or a very thin ribbon of paint popping through a later application of pigment.

Kasten’s use of worked up muddied color (Zumi Legend), serves him well in two ways: it makes the finished paintings look aggressive and tough, which they are not, and the paintings are made cohesive by the particular way in which Kasten uses the pigment. At this point in Kasten’s career (born in San Francisco, 1916), it would seem fair and even necessary to ask some questions concerning his work. What, if anything, new does he bring to the abstract expressionist idiom within which he works? The answer is plainly—nothing. Kasten’s paintings are like those of a myriad of other ex-Hoffman students both younger and older than Kasten. If nothing new is discovered in his paintings, what is it that Kasten is contributing to a style which is continuing to produce exciting paintings from successive generations of painters? The answer is, unfortunately—nothing. The academic orthodoxy of Kasten’s approach limits his paintings from their inception. This may seem a strange thing to say about a man who is working within an idiom which was conceived and born in order to free the painters who fathered the style. And now, little more than a decade later, appears an artist among, admittedly, many others, who has made an orthodoxy of a movement which has consistently and deliberately avoided any and all attempts to define its limits or to jell its thinking into one-wayism. Prof. Kasten has arrived at a point within the El Dorado of post-cubist styles and has come up and out of the mineshaft clinging tenaciously to his prize—non-freedom.

James Monte