New York

Larry Zox

Kornblee Gallery

The notion that Larry Zox is a “color painter,” or that he is what you might call a sensual colorist seems to be a mistaken one. Zox is now using several kinds of paint: he varies two types of surfaces within one canvas by alternating epoxy resins, which have a leathery sheen, and acrylics, which are applied more flatly. He also combines bright primaries or cosmetic pastel colors with tertiaries (grey-greens or acidic yellows) and achromatic shades (black, greys, whites, browns). In spite of these new chromatic variations, his thinking is still much more in terms of light dark value, which controls the degree of spatial illusionism admitted into the works. His is not a purely coloristic expression. What happens in his show at the Kornblee is that the combination of color and internal geometric design often falls, short of the energetic rigor which marks his best work (both past and present). Zox’s most powerful pictorial statements are controlled by a taut organizational will. Color, on the other hand, is one of the dryer features of the recent paintings, although I believe the selection hung in the gallery was not representative. (Several of his more successful paintings, where color appears to have worked better, had to be included in other shows.)

What one is faced with here is the working out of several new problems, all in various stages of resolution. Some of these paintings lack the illusionistic and compositional assurance of other recent canvases, such as Barnard’s O.P.H. (shown in the Whitney Annual) or Keosovqua (see Artforum, October 1967), where color is deliberately marginal to structural concerns. But the current works do represent a vigorous attempt to deal with a more solid integration of color and design, and it is this issue on which a discussion must focus. In the Diamond Drill Series, interpenetrating triangles and wedges are divided by narrow and wide channels of bare canvas, which often serve to float the weightier blazons of color within the rectangular format. The thinner channels force areas of color more sharply and penetratingly into relationship with one another than do the wider courses. However, unlike the kind of “snap” which the jogged intersections in last year’s Scissors Jack paintings possessed, these thin paths just don’t have the strength to carry across the wider channels—always a crucial point in the compositions. Actually, some distinction may be made between the earlier and later works in this Drill series. In the former, the interlocking areas of the design were cramped toward the left or right half of the field. This effected an uneasy vertical compression, in contrast to the open, undivided half of the canvas. In the later arrangements, like Fifield or Keokuk, the wedges and triangles are expanded more broadly across the field, and therefore work more fully as major pictorial elements.

The reservation about these works is that there is a disparity between the impact of the color within the shapes and the active geometry that organizes them. The driving force of the composition as a whole is not necessarily—that is, coherently—held by certain single colored sections. Thus a lighter segment of the field may actually lose its definitive shaping. What one is trying to get at here is that the gamut of color which Zox uses lacks resonance or a really compelling emotional impact (and it is not industrial in its range, to the contrary). So that if a painting must fall back on composition—which may not be strong enough in itself to support an expanse of color—the result is a disjointed accomplishment.

This awkward balance seems to have found a greater measure of resolution in Trobriana, a larger, more ambitiously organized canvas than the Diamond Drill Series. It indicates the direction into which the ideas of the series have been projected, especially in terms of complexity. Composed of diagonal parallelograms and wedges, it has a breadth and scale which, in turn, find their coloristic promise in the other sequence of paintings exhibited, the Gemini Series.

In the Gemini paintings, the flattened four-pointed star shapes exercise a gentle pull at the corners of the canvas, yet carry an expanse of color more forcibly than in the geometrically intricate works. Obtuse triangles bordering the four edges of the field are either the same color as the star, or they are a number of different hues. In the latter case a more eccentric kind of pressure is set up. For example, a dark blue sliver on one side pelts into the orange center, creating a tight, tense relationship between field and edge. This tension is then “released” on the opposite edge by a yellow triangle which reverberates in a lighter key. The range of coloristic effects which these paintings explore—some vastly more surprising and pleasing than others—points to a vital combination in Zox’s work, where color is not compromised by the needs of structural organization, but is, instead, coordinated with it.

Emily Wasserman