New York

Harvey Quaytman

Royal Marks Gallery

At the Royal Marks Gallery, Harvey Quaytman shows a series of large recent paintings which are more or less of the current “gestural abstraction” variety; that is to say, the image consists of a few large relaxed forms seen against a ground of unsized bare canvas. These forms seem to be the result of thinnish liquid pigment being allowed to extend itself in some direction under partial control by the artist. Quaytman’s manipulations go considerably further than this familiar process to give his works several novel features, both perceptual and technical.

First, his color, a sober array of browns, greys, purples, blues, and greens, enlivened here and there with yellow and orange, is often the result of laying one color over another so that only a faint aura of the undercoat warms or cools the surface hue. Metallic particles in suspension give a conservative shimmer to some of these colors.

In most of Quaytman’s work here, three or four of his Chessy-cat forms go to make up a particular yoke-like shape that encloses on its three longest sides a trapezoidal area of bare canvas. This area is seen very crisply against the paint forms that define it since it has been formed (at least in part) by razor cuts in the canvas. It is then backed and glued down to restore the integrity of the entire surface. In this way, within a stylistic context likely to be familiar to the viewer, that of the canvas stained by poured pigment, the seemingly impossible element of the perfectly straight line is introduced.

If anything, this introduction is not surprising enough. Because the paint forms themselves are simple, with sweeping smooth contours, the contrast between those contours set by the self-extension of the pigment and those wilfully incised by the artist is not really very noticeable. In fact, to appreciate this difference fully it is necessary to get very close to these sizable canvases and examine them as if for blackheads. In this process, the distance necessary to see the total pictorial configuration is of course sacrificed. What really happens, then, is that one must experience each of the elements of this important contrast separately, and assemble the whole in the mind.

Without the discovery and experience of this particular formal elaboration of the primary figure-ground relationship, Quaytman’s paintings would be only lackadaisical exercises in a current painting mode. Clearly the artist attempts more than this, but in his present show the impossibility of even perceiving the nature of his intention without losing the coherence of the entire work prevents successful articulation of the paradox which is supposed to be its central aspect.

––Dennis Adrian