New York

Jack Beal

Frumkin Gallery

Several still lifes in previous exhibitions, involving deliberated elaborated dealings with light, signaled, for Jack Beal, a new vision of the subject as clearly ambivalent between pattern formed by the light on the color of things, and the arrangement of the things themselves. Space in these works was tipped up, congested, and Manneristic. In Beal’s current show, the four earlier of the eight figure paintings progressively forced this clear ambiguity to a point of ruptured coherence in the large Nude with Four Vertical Patterns.

In the paintings of this group, the subject consists of a female nude, extended on a chaise lounge covered with a patterned fabric. Behind this chaise and other objects is a background also of aggressively patterned fabric or paper. In front of the figure (and of course the background) is one or more vertical or angled panels also covered with a strong pattern. This last pattern is similar to or identical with the patterns on the chaise cover and background, though not necessarily the same colors, and it jibes with and seems to continue parts of them. Since this patterned panel obscures part(s) of the intermediate nude, a jumpy and dazzling play results among the flat pattern of the narrow panel, its own thin volume, the apparent continuity with the pattern of the chaise cloth and again with the background pattern, the strong volumes of the visible parts of the nude, the pattern resulting from the discontinuity of the parts of the partly obscured nude, the colors of all these things, and the varying breakup and alteration of these forms by strongly cast shadows and sidelighting. In essence, Beal plays with the question of the painting as an apparent vision of volumes and planes, and the painting as a flat surface covered with colored areas in a certain order or pattern.

The four subsequent paintings in the show also show a figure (now not always nude) on and among some furniture in an interior space of limited extent: the wall is never far behind. In these, however, the patterned fabrics, panels, and other overlays have disappeared. There are not very many objects in each picture. In each case, every object in the picture becomes itself a large ornamental form whose irregular decorative nature is strengthened by the most sensitive mise en tableau. The edge of a voluptuous shell-like sofa just grazes the edge of the canvas on two sides. An inflated air mattress rises with majestic ominousness to hover over a girl in black brassiere and tights who rests on a large lawn chaise. Edges and terminal points of these objects again just touch the edge of the canvas on one or more sides, sometimes opposite sides, thereby allowing the painted shape to be flatly just that, despite the clear and careful modeling of it as a volume. Coloristic irrationalities also enforce this double sense of a shape on the surface of the picture and a thing within it. The color, while still intense, now comes in strong chords of three or four tones instead of the jumpy polychromy of the earlier group of pictures in the show. The results are a more majestic and ineffably enigmatic statement of the dilemma of the painting as a thing itself and as a picture of things than before. The works are easy, even grand, and highly abstracted despite the instant legibility of all the forms as pictured things. Beal’s pictorial concern has shifted from a Dionysian to an Apollonian mood more aloofly mysterious than the nearly hermetic frenzied patterns immediately previous.

Beal’s art is not doctrinaire or even conservative, but it emanates from some sense of his own artistic identity rather than being a product of varied and continuous tentative inquiries into the nature of art or identity. This sense of identity is the mainspring of the shifting foci and changing aspects of his painting and alone can sustain the level and pitch which three shows in as many seasons have shown. The phenomenon is significant right now, when many artists, particularly abstract ones, take the alternate stance of assuming an identity within a defined style or ideological encapsulation. The liturgid critical attempts to make these entities airtight have happily not restricted the artists, living or dead, as much as some would hope, and one of the brighter aspects of current American art is the degree to which innovation and personal development continue to flourish despite the pressures of accepted and aspiring Establishment pressures. Outside the synthetic and flimsy structures of either such current critical or artistic orthodoxies himself, Beal is among the best of the generation of artists now in their thirties who have made and are making it some other way, by “tearing their eyes out” if you will, but from a position of artistic strength that is both the touchstone and the core of the essentially healthy position of American art, especially painting, today.

Dennis Adrian