San Francisco

Jack Tworkov

San Francisco Museum of Art

The retrospective of Tworkov’s mature style is about midway in its travels to six American museums. The exhibition, originally shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, was condensed for the tour, but it is still a large show with excellent examples of all the changes of Tworkov’s work in the last fifteen years. Prior to ’49 he was painting very abstract still-lifes, but they are not included, nor is there even one of the social conscious paintings of the thirties, or the academic paintings of the twenties. Apparently the organizers of the show decided to include only the Abstract Expressionist work, so we can only guess if the earlier work was growing in this direction.

The growth of the style closely parallels that of de Kooning. They had studios next door to one another, and it is conceivable that the process of influence was a two-way street. The melding of influences includes Kline, too, but that is more evident in the late ’50s, and in the ’60s. However that may be, Tworkov’s paintings are distinctly different from his mentors. The difference is a more rigorous geometrical pattern, and a greater regularity to the rhythm of the brush stroke. The slashing flame-like stroke usually diagonally in the direction of the upper right hand corner is very fast and intense, but always contained by a more or less unseen grid: action is counterpoised against stillness.

In ’56 the grid is quite rigid, and is often marked out visibly in pencil; by ’58 the form was much freer and more organic to the painting, the colors more sombre, but the metronomic lean to starboard is still evident. In fact it is still there in his most recent emblematic-symmetrically oriented work. This latest tendency still has the feather edge of the brush stroke, but is less active, and less painterly. From ’60 into the same year that symmetry developed, he painted with a much broader line, and some of the most monumental and dramatic paintings of this show are from this phase. RWG#9 is a tall, checked painting in red, green and grey, very simple and rich. The broad stripe of ’60 is beautifully illustrated by Thursday; Script (’62) simplifies the stripe and gives it its boldest impact. If the flame of Expressionism has burned out, it went out in glory.

Knute Stiles