Los Angeles

Antony Donaldson

Wilder Gallery

At Nicholas Wilder, British painter Antony Donaldson is showing six of the canvases executed during his year’s stay in Los Angeles. Donaldson has looked hard at the ornate insides of our ubiquitous ’30s movie houses; he has responded to Lichtenstein’s backward glance to the same era; and he can’t have missed the move into so-called “Abstract Illusionism,” particularly as manifested in the recent painting of Miriam Schapiro. But his is not merely one more case of a young English artist shaping one or another current American fashion into an uninspired esthetic commodity; he is an ambitious, immensely accomplished draftsman and a distinguished colorist. That his imagery—evocative as it is of a particular historical mannerism, and one which happens to be a kitsch-culture archetype—will date his work within the year, need not unduly disconcert us now, although he may well end by being undeservedly relegated to the crowded ranks of once-touted Stylists. Save for the handful of Pop luminaries, we are tiring quickly of period piece art (already being, for instance, on the verge of moderne sickness). In point of fact, Donaldson is far more concerned with sophisticated, abstract composition than with formal caricature: one must hope that the associative side effects of his designs will not become intolerable with the passage of time.

The canvases are large, vivid and architectonic. All set truncated, columnar forms, usually simulating the multiplied astragal or deeply fluted design motif (20th Century Fox), against inflected grounds. In Pix Hollywood, two grey, astragalar pillars move into the center of the canvas, upward and forward from the sides (the right-hand arm is bifurcated along its length); four small shapes—two areas of pale yellow, two identical curled and scalloped figures in a range of pinks—rest against the columnar forms. The ground is bright green. Every aspect of the work—its scale, compositional boldness and lucent color—is commanding. One of the trickiest compositions in terms of illusionistic devices is Culver, which introduces two beveled yellow and green “edge” shapes, situated at the ends of bright blue diagonal planes, modeled chromatically to simulate convexity and concavity, respectively. The interplay here of hard-edge forms against the blue-speckled ground is more salient on a sheerly abstract level than in other works—the individual shapes sometimes seem to float, disconnected on the picture surface, and at others to define a unified construct. The largest canvas, Alex Brand Ave., about 6 by 12 feet, is probably the least successful, seeming more arbitrary in every respect than the others, but it is more than compensated for by the quality and diversity of the show as a whole. Occasionally Donaldson’s virtuosity in creating spatial and luminal illusions solely through internal chromatic nuance is really astonishing, as in Alex Glendale, where he nearly dissolves a complex “solid” form into white light.

Jane Livingston