New York

James McGarrell

Allan Frumkin Gallery

James McGarrell’s current show at the Allan Frumkin Gallery leads one again into the phantasmagoria of form and idea paradoxes that this artist has been revealing with increasingly greater painterly finesse for a number of years now. The five or six big paintings in the show deal with, imagistically, the variant meanings or interpretations of a given concept, and which, presented together in a single pictorial context, set off in the consciousness yet other formally related images. Some of these latter are then included in a given work as well. The large Currents, for example, shows a nude female model, draped about the shoulders, whose face is obscured by the screened blades of a large standing electric fan. She is seen against a wall which is perhaps papered with a design of butterflies, although cloud wisps suggest that this panel is really a view of the sky, too. The putative wall panel adjacent to this one shows planes in flight, and above them, a trio of befogged identical ships. Intellectually the rebus is not taxing: the currents are of course electrical, aerial, marine, and what not. And, the interest of McGarrell’s work does not depend on this sort of solution to the seeming illogicality of the separate images. Once this has been accomplished however, we are ready to see more responsively an analogous relationship, a possible “solution” to the problem of a logically impossible relationship between the actuality of the painting (flat, colored, such and such a size, etc.) and the actuality of the vision presented (the ambiguous room, the wallpaper sky/landscapes, etc.). The resolution of these phenomena, each of which is on its own terms compatible with any other, depends upon an expanded realization of the possible aggregate meaning of different aspects of perception. Our experience of reality presents at once several different but overlapping sets of awarenesses of things outside of and within the self. An attempt to define one of these sets in terms of another destroys, or rather ignores, the nature of the entity being defined. Granting equal moment to each kind of awareness, and at the same time, is the only way in which the “inconsistencies” are fully revealed as the essential and in fact definitive existential perceptions. All works of art of course do just this, or they are probably not works of art, and McGarrell’s contribution is that he chooses the pun, the analogy of image and idea (the rebus), and a calculated ambivalence of visual means to point up as well as embody the artistic function.

Over previous exhibitions, McGarrell’s present offering has an enriched and more varied palette, and with the exception of the large Double Corner, he does not use a few somber tones close in value to unify the entire pictorial field. The more varigated color is accompanied with a wider range of pigment densities and more numerous abbreviated renderings than in the past, and in some instances these ventures prove disruptive to his overall intention rather than enlivening the presentation of the imagery as intended. The smaller pictures by and large do not appear to advantage with their larger companions. Except for the wholly self-sufficient Self-portrait: Chicago 1966 they seem to be tryouts for larger undertakings which were either left at their most suggestive moment, or “finished up” just in order to be small pictures. In the past McGarrell has shown that a small format need not muffle his eloquence, but the six small works here are mostly off the usual mark.

With the intricacies of his work now, McGarrell appears to face a number of developmental possibilities which will have to be explored lest the fragile elaboration of his work stiffen into a set form. Perhaps, as in the past, the media of drawing and graphics will lead on to the next stage of his art.

Dennis Adrian