Los Angeles


David Stuart Galleries

Maryan would seem to take as his text Jeremy Taylor’s “What is man but a vessel of dung, a stink of corruption, and, by birth, a slave of the devil?” His Personages are strutting, fretting idiots, whose silence makes the plastic arts appear lacking in a dimension. His characters are permutations and combinations of all our literary Yahoos: Caliban, Sweeney, Ubu, Oskar, and the Snopes, wedded to the devil in a medieval farce or a clown from the commedia dell’arte. They come from Gothic distortions via Matthias Grunewald, Hieronymus Bosch, Goya’s Black Paintings, and German Expressionism; they come from man’s inhumanity to man, World War II, and mid-century “nausea.” In other words, there is no lack of precedent; there is a noble lineage; the message is received and recorded. And there is even biographical justification: Maryan, born Pinchas Burstein in Poland, spent five years in Polish concentration camps, two more in German refugee camps, and three post-war years in Israel. In 1950 he came to Paris, where he spent a decade before moving to New York.

The paintings, each containing a single figure of a man-animal, function together as a cast for some gigantic tragi-comedy that might be called, “Man: this thing of darkness.” They sneer, sit, strut, stick their tongues out, smile enigmatically; others bellow, sprinkle confetti, exhibit themselves, sit in Beckett baskets, or change into hybrids. They all play to an audience which they mock, and wear costumes part military, part carnival. The colors are reasonably subdued; the compositions tend to be classically, primitively frontal, with a low stage flooring as horizon line. Certain symbolic details recur: the military armbands, confetti, stigmata. These are Chicago School monsters gone to play at German Concentration camps. Unlike Chicago “new images,” these paintings have the redeeming virtue of comedy, and, especially in the black and white figures, a raw expressionistic power. What weakens them qua painting is a compositional dullness and, most important, the over-explicitness with which they make a point more literary than plastic, more caricature than embodied form. We are accustomed to the oblique these days, to the grotesque as a mode of seeing, rather than a tautological statement of meaning.

Nancy Marmer