New York


Frumkin Gallery

Maryan’s recent exhibition of paintings and lithographs at the Allan Frumkin Gallery is perhaps the most dazzling of his hallucinatory groups of personages seen here in several years. While Maryan’s work has always been notable for its level of sustained inventiveness and power to command acceptance as a penetrating look into modes of being central to human experience, in the past he has brought this about alternatively by a super-clear visionary exposition of his fantasy or, as in his last show, with such violence and ferocity that the paintings seemed to preserve the imprint of a collision between the image and the canvas.

In the current work elements of both these approaches may be seen, but thoroughly unified in a new mode. Keeping the plenitude of specific inventions distinguishing earlier work, Maryan’s painting now comes to form with a luxuriant and extremely plastic handling. What is unusual within this approach is that the artist has not been obliged to relinquish any of the scalding intensity of the more freely handled antecedent production. If anything, the entire experience gains considerably in force and depth of impact, since none of the invention is at all dry, nor is any part of the virtuosity undirected or inchoate.

Clues to the impulse behind this new manner show up in several paintings whose imagery is dependent on Vermeer and Goya; Maryan’s works contain his parallels to their respective lucidity and powerful feeling and the certainties of their techniques are emulated. The Personage After Vermeer takes off from the tantalizing back view self-portrait of The Artist in the Studio to produce a vigorous and brushy summation of the figure in 17th-century costume at work at the easel. Considerations of style apart, Maryan has obviously been intrigued with the indirection of Vermeer’s concept, related as it is to the enigma and allegory pervading his own work. The Goya personages eschew an easy burlesque of Goya’s horrifies for a more humane exfoliation of the imagery. Goya’s seated Defendant holding a taper becomes under Maryan’s brush several possible beings; the wretched butt forced to a posture of submission, the fool “touched by God” holding a fantastically sparkling wand, and perhaps the artist as the fantastically tricked out buffoon who reveals hard truths in cryptic and seemingly nonsensical form.

Most of the paintings (and all of the eight lithographs) in the show present Maryan’s own invented creatures, enthroned in a stage-like space. They overpower the viewer with their costumes and attributes in brilliant pinks, oranges, yellows, and blues contrasted against black or pearl-grey grounds. In the case of the prints, an astonishing range of passages with crayon, tusche, and sgraffito forms sumptuosities of black and white rare in contemporary graphics. The grounds in both lithos and paintings are not mere backdrops but become, through their luminosity and dull radiance, indefinite spaces in which coruscations emanating from the figures burn and glow.

The figures themselves are both threatening and irresistibly fascinating in their garish majesty. Their emotional presence forces one to consider and choose a relationship with them. If he does not turn away from inability to tolerate the voltage, one must be caught up in an artistic revelation whose particulars may not be very comfortable. To consider these personages monstrous in an exclusively pejorative sense is a gross misapprehension of their essence. They are monstrous as is Ubu Roi or Genet’s White Queen, “out of nature” in that they surpass inclusively the possibilities of a single existence. For this very reason they attain to a universal human meaning. They are not types, but iconic formulations of the multiplicity and conflict at the root of human nature.

––Dennis Adrian