San Francisco

Bruce Breckenridge

Richmond Art Center

The Art Center continues its im­portant series of large scale one-man shows by Bay Area artists. Breckenridge exhibits twenty-three paintings done during the last six months. Most of them are five or six feet in height, close to square in format, composed mainly of large dark color areas basically horizon­tal and vertical in orientation. His work shows a considerable development, dur­ing this half year, from more complex to more simple, from central configuration of color areas in classical abstract fash­ion (in the earlier paintings) to a gradual opening up of the center, into which slightly curving swaths of color impinge, rapier- or pincers-like, from the edge. The artist gradually increases the sense of depth in his paintings by establishing a contrast between the broad, thick col­ored paths and the ground on which they are applied. Like the pasted newspapers or oilcloth in an early cubist collage, the swaths affirm the surface of the canvas, causing the ground to sink back into pic­torial depth. There is no ambiguity––­the painted space does not advance into our space, nor does it hover indeterminately; the artist creates an illusionistic depth which is reduced only upon pro­longed looking, as one becomes aware of the richly painted surface. Brecken­ridge reveals in the finished work the process by which he builds up from the white primed canvas (usually left un­covered at the bottom), first with thinly painted but intense color, then with suc­cessive layers of rich, dark reds or blues or wine colors until the final layer at­tains a patinaed quality of distinct dark beauty. This is not action painting, but upon the developed surface the broad swaths are laid down (or scraped in) with relative swiftness, denying, in the sense that they send back into space, the surface which the artist has so ardu­ously created.

Occasionally the paintings take on a strength akin to that experienced when a slide of a small sketch is blown up on a screen. In Save Vakulinchik No. 2 (the titles are thoroughly irrelevant) wide, calligraphic ribbons of gray, white, and cadmium red move across a burnished red and brown field. It is like a very small section of a Tomlin magnified to life-size; the decorative equivalence of figure and ground is transformed into a spatially tense situation brought about by the increase in scale, the emphasis on texture and textural differences, and the solemn depth and intensity of the palette.

This is a bold and impressive first one-man show.

Joel Isaacson