San Francisco

Gordon Onslow-ford, Lee Mulli­can, Fred Reichman, Jerrold Da­vis, and Richard Bowman

Rose Rabow Gallery

It is apparent without benefit of the usual gallery biographical blurbs, that these artists are all competent and aware technicians, professional and serious. The present showing is, there­fore, for most of these painters, unfor­tunate––even after discounting the over­crowded, ill-considered juxtaposition of canvases, the distracting, somewhat Ro­coco clutter of eclectic furniture and the rather good pre-Columbian sculp­ture.

Two of these painters, at least––On­slow-Ford and Mullican––have seen days of more inventive and persuasive vital­ity than is to be found in the techni­cally interesting, but rather “tight” and rigidly contrived involvements with the problems of architectonic formalism that comprise their statements in this exhibition. In these current offerings one finds that peculiar combination of sophistication and sterility that marks, say, the tidy, craft-conscious disserta­tions in complex, twelve-tone-row coun­terpoint of a dean of music at an ivy league college. But both painters are possessed of significant and far from mediocre ability and vitality. They have each undergone different “periods” in which they successively explored di­verse and often contrasting idioms, and have moved in each period from a fluid and mobile inventiveness to an aca­demic sclerosis,––only to break from this ultimate crystallization into a fresh and dynamic exploration of new areas. This is organic process.

Mr. Reichman’s work is uneven in range and carefulness, although, at best, he is an extremely sensitive technician, deftly exploring the (for an Occi­dental) brittle fragilities of understate­ment, economy, “negative space,” and delicately precise and plotted contrasts. In his larger offerings in this show, notably, Spring Is A Fallen Fence (1963) and Outside Our Window, he turns to a Neo-Orientalism that has as its prototype the Chinese scroll. There are the vast areas of pearl-grey “ground,” with the carefully achieved, soft, un­dulous, granular texture of new-fallen, wind-rippled snow, against which are fastidiously arranged, in elegantly pre­cious and lyrical delineation, the in­evitable birds, twigs and cherry blos­soms. But for all his niceties of crafts­manship and thought he is but pressing dried petals for the intellectual Loto­phagi. Here is a highly cerebral Occi­dentalization of Oriental artistic pro­cedures. What the Chinese scroll has, that Mr. Reichman’s paintings have not, is suffused warmth, lyricism without “preciousness,” tranquility without staticity, economy without contrivance and asperity.

Mr. Reichman, too, has seen better days creatively. His earlier canvases convey an austere, somewhat Nordic, melancholy-lyric poignancy in a bold and bleak terseness that is not fettered or contradicted by the fragile niceties of a Neo-Orientalism that is not vehicu­lar to Mr. Reichman's mood, even if within his facile technical grasp.

Mr. Davis is most easily disposed 6f. Here are New York––“New Image,” grey­-grey-blob-blob landscapes and white-­white-blob-blob nudes. Yes, the work is craftsmanly and competent within the terms of the genre: “space” is created; areas of high-relief impasto are model­ed, and alternated with a thin, flat, application of the paint; texturing and modulations within the greys and the whites are sensitively handled. The only trouble is that, while the other artists in this show are exploring individually selected areas of method, medium and experiment, Mr. Davis’ paintings seem but well-turned phrases in one of those artistic idioms that originate in New York, engulf the country, and barely have a year of novelty before acquiring the repetitious staleness of a cliché.

Mr. Bowman’s paintings are charac­terized by buoyance and verve, and a tropical, intertangled profusion of warm yellows, magentas, violets, and greens, that provide a happy relief to the humor­less cerebralities of Mr. Onslow-Ford and Mr. Mullican, the sombre grey-grey blob-landscapes and white-white blob­-nudes of Mr. Davis, and the tidily ex­quisite, but lifeless lyricism of Mr. Reichman.

Mr. Bowman’s paintings run in two parallel series, which he calls KG (Kino-genetics) and Environs. The former has less obvious allusion to the representa­tional, the latter, rather more. Both seem to derive ultimately from nature, particularly the forms and colors of profuse vegetation and foliage. There is a detailed, free and vivaciously busy opulence of color-modulations and con­trasts, of linear and spatial convolu­tions and textural inflections, inter­integrally fusing into an exhilarating totality. Here is work that is “felt through” rather than “thought out” to a nicety and nuance of statement that never loses its jauntiness and verve.

––Palmer French