New York

Billy Apple

Bianchinni Gallery

Billy Apple’s rainbows, at the Bianchinni Gallery, are among the most beautiful that hover over the present scene.

Orphist aureoles, Synchromist apology and prismatic mysticism are all aspects of the rainbow’s quirky career in the 20th century. Kupka and Delaunay were fascinated by rainbows less as natural phenomena than visual theorems. The Synchromist band of Americans spending “Wanderjahren” in Paris and denying affiliation with the Orphists nonetheless came up with analogous theories. Turn of the century initiates in occult mysteries––disenchanted Rosicrucians and Theosophists—elected to present natural form in terms of prismatic analyses, a visual parallel for the mystic’s certitude of the oneness and continuity of the natural and spiritual worlds. In the 1920’s rainbows fell into temporary eclipse (to strain the celestial metaphor) or reappeared in the altered forms of the primaries of Neo-Plasticism. These colors were a compressed sign of the rainbow, as all color theoretically lies fallow in the primary fields. These few indications of the waxing and wanings of rainbows suggest some of the vast new interest in them and indicate some of the private connotations of the motif which at first glance might seem both pallid and silly.

A rainbow came out in late Schwitters, “Merzbild mit Regnbue” (1939), as well as in the broadly disguised serigraphic overprintings of Robert Rauschenberg’s silk-screens and lithographs. Jasper Johns has been interested in the rainbow cousin, the primary triad, which he not only colors in rainbow, but often labels (malicious wizard that he is) incorrectly. The rungs of George Brecht’s “White Ladder” are painted rainbow, not to mention his furniture (painted white except for a rainbow leg). Ed Giobbe (recently shown at the Alan Gallery) attempted to add interest to an indecisive painting by smudging charcoal drawings across black-framed pointillist rainbows.

Billy Apple has already worked in rainbow series. Sets of self-portraits were produced like architectural transfer prints, in rainbow-stepped color shifts. He continues as The Rainbow Master with these extravagant sections of neon tubes or plastic strip which recall Morris Louis’s rainbow stripes. There are chevron rainbows, complete circles like the rings of Saturn, arcs of rainbows, and others which spill into plastic or white enamel pools. His flat, arclike forms sometimes reflect in polished chromium.

A typical Apple sequence runs orchid, mauve, cerulean, chartreuse, yellow, tangerine, cherry, ruby. These bald words evoke no impression of the artist’s closely harmonized and original transitions. The exhibition also contains lithographs of rainbows in dayglow colors which capture some of the luminous crispness of his sensuous neon impersonations. These are, after all, the closest to the real thing that one is likely to encounter in a gallery. There are no pots of gold.

Robert Pincus-Witten