Los Angeles

Craig Kauffman

Ferus Gallery

A familiar younger artist in both Los Angeles and San Francisco is showing new work that marks a decisive change of form, if not content, from his older oil-on-canvas paintings. The attenuated and passively sexual imagery (deriving perhaps from Yves Tanguy’s science fiction surrealism of the late nineteen-thirties) has been made to jump through a newer and smaller hoop via up-dated technical innovation.

The loose treatment of form and the expressive handling of paint in Kauffman’s older work placed him at one time solidly in the expressionist camp. The sexual fantasy and pictorial myth-making linking surrealism and abstract expressionism have been implicit in his paintings for some time. Kauffman presently eschews all expressionist overtones and adopts a surrealist handling of his painted forms. He also systematizes his pictorial problems by constructing shallow white boxes with the leading plane of each box composed of clear plastic sheet stock. On the inside plane of each sheet, Kauffman carefully delineates each painting with the technical skill and craftsman-like abstraction of the sign-writers’ trade.

Kauffman, in one sense, reverses the role played by Jasper Johns in the nineteen-fifties. Johns chose to paint everyday objects. As the critic Max Kozloff said, “We’re elaborately pre-exhausted by everyday usage.” (Beer cans, targets and flags.) Kauffman exhausts his own abstract-expressionist imagery and then rediscovers it by revising his technical manner of painting.

One feels a certain disingenuousness about Kauffman’s change in painting manner as compared to, for example, Billy Al Bengston. In Bengston one feels that dedication to craft innovation is the driving force of his art. With Kauffman, what one feels is a very real disengagement of the artist from his problems, and a correspondingly frozen “look” passing for style.

James Monte