New York

Darby Bannard

It had been remarked lately that Darby Bannard’s too-palatable use of cosmetic or decorator colors runs against the grain of prevailing tastes for styles of reductive monochrome, non-relational, systemic, or serially repetitive composition. This actually says more about the inherent Puritanism of our own responses, than it does about the ambitious complexity of Bannard’s newest paintings, shown at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. There is a deceptive mildness to his Jordan Almond colors, and a sweetness which challenges us by its very surfeit to override even this kind of psychological association. They are the most fashionable of unfashionable tints, and that is where the area of greatest provocation lies. I must state, however, that I think these paintings are finer than any he has produced since his adaption of the machine mixed Dutch Boy color sample system. They are more distinctly voluptuous than the “Blue Florida” series exhibited last year, and Bannard has given more latitude for his color, using intricately varied compositions.

Not only is Bannard working further towards a breadth of color experience, but he is distinctly concerned with luminosity (in a way that few other painters besides Stella are), and with a flexibly flat or illusionist space, which has a more erratic quality than ever before in his work. And yet, one still has certain reservations about the paintings. Now they are tidily divided into nine rectangular grid sections, into which are placed curving slices, or parts of undulant shafts and arcing triangles. Although the forms are clearly secondary to the kind of color contrast used, their sometimes airtight compression, and the fastidious coating they are given can be dampening factors in the total chromatic experience. Color is not fully allowed to take on the burden of pictorial structure, and yet pictorial structure has been opened up to the extent that each painting deals with a different variety of design organization concomitant with the greater range of pastel hues which Bannard is now employing. The amount of external light cast on the paintings is also crucial, as bright light will wash out the colors, whereas dimmer light will capitalize upon the variations in gloss and sheen which create discontinuous planes within the grid arrangement. From the front, this gloss simply differentiates values, while viewed from a side point, the amount of reflection seems more extreme, creating contrasts less lush, but infinitely more fascinating visually.

The painting titled By the River, No. 1, I found to be one of the more successful. Its curving chevron-like bands overlap inward toward the center bottom of the field, ranging through delicate moth greens and ochers, in contrast to a rich lavender and morning-glory pale blue. Although the spatial effects are highly ambiguous—the swathes can curve in, under, through and above the surface grid pattern, or diverge outwards laterally—the color has a kind of breathing coherence which is a rational as well as lyrically imaginative feat. Purple Sage, No. 1 is a more regular arrangement of interlocking sectors, combining peachy pinks, baby blues, plush lavender, and chartreuse greens, still more sensuous than the painting just discussed. The Bathers, No. 1, and several other works were so eccentrically designed, even within the rectangular grid, and the color so disparately, if systematically, disposed, that I had more trouble justifying their success or failure. Bannard seems to be loosening up on former restraints, and although he still likes to contrast single hues in both flat and shiny finishes, his colors have become both more explicit and discrete. This does not necessarily mean that the paintings are easier to enjoy, but they are more enjoyable, to my eye, for their expansion in range, both pictorially and chromatically. Even if one cannot give in to the particular taste they represent, it must be admitted that these paintings are certainly Bannard’s most original solutions to date.

Emily Wasserman