Los Angeles

Nicolai Fechin

Barnsdall Municipal Galleries

It is becoming increasingly difficult to evaluate the work of some­one like Fechin, who worked with ap­parent disregard for the developments in art during his lifetime and seemed to pursue an already predictable direction. To dismiss the work as academic is really not fair, since academic refers only to the conservatism of a previous generation and may be superseded by new academicisms in time. Yet, for a man who was a contemporary of Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keefe, John Marin (to name some of the Americans with whom he was in contact during his years in Taos) and of Picasso and Ben­nard, to be so consistently reluctant to organize forms in any but the most ob­vious combinations, to be content with the colorful illustration of what he actu­ally saw, seems to denote, at the very least, a painter whose imagination was bound by the limits of the real and who refused the basic freedoms that paint­ing offers. Successful in this country as a portrait painter and later as a teacher, he apparently was never willing to push his obvious talents beyond very pro­scribed limits. And he had talent: the charcoal drawings are skillful, some of the portraits are telling, one or two of the landscapes begin to break up the visible into something more than just a faithful rendering. Sometimes his brushwork tends to be loose, even ex­citing, but somehow, this just isn’t enough. The choice of exotic subjects didn’t help-Indians, Russian singers and the like-since he used them as a substitute for visual exploration rather than as an impetus. At his worst, the painting can be downright banal, like the china horse against the Spanish shawl. The exhibition is by no means complete and it is unfair to form any final opinion without seeing more of his work; nevertheless, The Arches, Children Playing in the Snow, La Jolla Landscape and the portrait of his father most exploit the dynamic possibilities of painting.

––Joan Hugo