Los Angeles

Franz Kline

Dwan Gallery

This show includes 11 paintings and 7 drawings from 1950 through 1961 most of which are owned locally and many of which have never before been displayed publicly. It is a delightful show not only because it is permeated with the Kline myth but because the pictures, even the unfamiliar ones, are, like old friends, wonderful to rediscover.

The psychological effect of the pic­tures themselves is difficult to trans­late. The shock and force that once ex­isted is now for the most part gone, and what is left are large very elegant abstractions that permeate the viewer with a nostalgia for the impact they once made on a tired and jaded art world. In effect they have taken on the look of old masters with all that that term implies.

If one views the paintings in chrono­logical order he becomes aware of the constant crisis that Kline faced in try­ing to act out his drama on the blank canvas face. The earliest picture, The Clock Face, 1950, deals in pure struc­ture. Black strokes contain flat white to grey spaces with two small areas of pink acting as part of the white and looking as if they had been there before the painting. The prime concern, though, is with structure and the appearance of action. (Kline’s paintings are for the most part not true action paintings. He would produce a large number of small action drawings from which he would select an image and then proceed to use it as the subject of the painting.) There is, in this picture, an almost total lack of embellishment. Every drip, splash and smudge acts as a part of the total structure.

As he progressed through the 50’s he seems to have become more and more dissatisfied with the purely structural aspects of the painting. He could not accept the limitations of a “mature style,” and the pictures progressively take on a fussy, compulsive look. The blacks are scrubbed back and forth, painted in and then out, drips and smudgy areas appear to have been con­sciously applied as tension breakers disrupting the flow of action. Kline, as he progressed to his death, seemed to have had greater and greater difficulty in finishing his pictures, as if he had to go on working at each one until he reached an ultimate and impossible resolution. Occasionally, as in Black Sienna and Torres, both 1960, he was still able to stop at the crucial point, or to deal again freshly with his older problems, but the situation seems to have grown more difficult, particularly when color appeared in the pictures to further complicate the situation.

The late pictures, particularly An­drus, 1961, project a look of desperate and prolonged struggle and for this rea­son they are effective and dramatic, but the clear resolution and invigorating ac­tion of the earlier paintings are gone from them. They point out the terrible burden of social pressure that faces the well-known artist today––where he and his audience make greater demands with each successive production, driv­ing him beyond his own endurance.

––Donald Factor