San Francisco


Lanyon Gallery

Like the War Department, the art world has its hawks and its doves. The doves like to talk about “lots of room for lots of styles and approaches,” while the hawks like to talk about “mainstream art.” The dove’s worst enemy is Walter Keane, while the hawk’s worst enemy is the dove. Kishi is the kind of artist that throws both camps into utter confusion. The doves like him for all the wrong reasons, while the hawks mistrust him because the doves like him so. The doves are astonished at the manner in which his paintings bring a joyous, zestful life into their living rooms; the hawks, while admiring his total control of the abstract expressionist vocabulary, can’t understand how he can, at the same time, be so light-hearted about it. Both camps collect his paintings at an astonishing clip, the doves for their living rooms, the hawks for his clean virtuosity, which is always a value.

None of the attributes of Kishi’s work are the things we commonly associate with abstract expressionism. Elegance, eloquence, an almost cavalier ease of execution, a breathtaking speed of execution, a pervasively lyrical sensibility. Given such “handicaps,” Kishi must prepare for the onslaughts of the more dogmatic—and less intelligent—hawks, who promptly see a prettified and adulterated abstract expressionism, a decorator’s delight. The others ponder the more difficult question: how does he manage to be exactly not that? How does he manage to be so beautiful, to please literally everyone, and yet never be treacherous to the tradition he has joined himself to? How does he escape all the pitfalls?

First and foremost is his virtuosity—no one can handle paint with such complete ease and not give pleasure from that alone. Second is the fresh quality of his imagery—he is incapable of a I painterly cliché, and can even use gold paint without making it offensive. His imagery is possessed of a spontaneity and lyrical charm which reminds us of nothing so much as those splendid Matisses of which it pleased that master to hear people say, “Nothing to it!”

For his opening show at the Lanyon Gallery, Kishi has pushed these faculties to the limit. The entire exhibition has a Spring-like, early-morning quality, obviously painted to be shown as a group. Each painting has a sort of pair of crow’s feet in the vicinity of the lower right hand corner which, seen from painting to painting, become a little introduction to each variation on the theme. The man does everything well.

Philip Leider