Los Angeles

Karel Appel

Pavilion Gallery, Bal­boa

Drawn solely from California col­lections and purporting to be a com­prehensive survey, the exhibition is ample in size and quality (22 oils and 33 gouaches, drawings and lithographs), but weighted with work from 1959–60. While one would not have supposed that such numbers of locally owned Appels would even be available, it is nonetheless difficult to trace his de­velopment from the samples here.

A general description would picture him as a graphic Expressionist who has moved in a dozen years from con­tained, child-like images through spon­taneous cartoons, to gestural patchy configurations. The Blue Cat and Un Oiseau (1954) anticipate the ma­ture Appel, and his style is fully re­alized by 1956 in the excellent Savage Birds or Head of a Man (1958). His images float, usually two opposing ele­ments—heads, animals, tangles of lines—contorting for control of the narrow and vignetted space. The line’s typical character is a rapid swoop, curl­ing and slashing. His colors, intense and pure but for where they mix, are chosen for maximum impact and sepa­ration in a juggle of linear description and surface fill-in. Then comes the bar­rage of heavy pigment, molten and slabbed, scraped, hacked; over, into, around the outlines, provoking the wet into wet, and settling at last to a vis­cous mass of cocked turmoil. The paintings fall together, a record of vio­lence, the graphic impulse strangling the color, the powerless configurations burdened by overladen activity and pitted against an activated field. The CoBrA cry is achieved, but all too often at the expense of form.

Comparing the oils and the gou­aches, a schizophrenic split is observ­able; the latter are quite lyrical and buoyant. The claws removed, the asser­tive bully at rest, problematic degrees of figurative material and spontan­eity are no longer in conflict. Here, the black is subdued, and, working with the brilliance of the white paper, sparkling transparent washes, and playing off simple triadic harmonies, Appel conveys a charming festivity of sensitivity, drowned in the inert opaque oils.

––Fidel A. Danieli