San Francisco

Patrick Tidd and Harry Lum

Berkeley Gallery

The Berkeley Gallery introduced new trends in the work of two Bay Area artists in its successive presentation of exhibitions of paintings by Patrick Tidd and by Harry Lum. Tidd, whose work of five years ago presented the viewer with an interesting ferment of ambivalent experimental groping which could have developed in any of a number of quite divergent directions, seems now firmly and rewardingly set on a course which has already produced an ample aggregate of thoroughly engaging canvases, falling into two groups: (1) hard-edge, “abstract charades” of strangely juxtaposed imagery and visual effects, collectively designated by the artist as "Game Paintings” (although all are individually untitled), and (2) geometrically stylized, somewhat emblematic paintings, treating telescopes, telescopically magnified nebulae, and other astronomical themes in the crisp delineations and airbrush textures made familiar in the illustration techniques commonly associated with the slick-format space-technology popularizations of such authors as Willy Ley. However, far from being merely illustrative, Mr. Tidd’s excitingly vivid airbrush galaxies and gleaming metallic symmetries of telescope extol the wonders of outer space and of the technology revealing them, in canvases of almost monumental proportions. Hence, these paintings seem rather like easel renderings of mural conceptions such as might be appropriate for, say, the rotunda of an edifice housing a science library.

The extremely intellectual “Game Paintings” are surely Mr. Tidd’s most unique compositions and represent an advanced contribution to the conscious and technical exploitation of gestalt magic and illusion in art; each of those paintings is a highly sophisticated, complex and subtly contrived visual (not simply optical) gestalt experiment. Indeed, in these intriguing works all manner of perception-psychology/ physiology, visual habits and reflexes are played upon—not, however, merely as clever tricks to astound the viewer, but literally as games challenging the active participation of the viewer in rewarding perception-experiment and stimulating him to an examination of his own responses to various modes of looking at, “perceptively organizing” and exploring the paintings.

Harry Lum’s canvases of a half-decade ago were occupied with fairly obvious, and usually flippant, Freudian erotic double entendre in the elaboration of familiar metaphors equating rolling landscape with the voluptuous curves of the female nude. While some of Lum’s more recent work still alludes to abdominal plains and bosomy hills (as viewed from a perennial perineal foreground) the metaphor, once so blatant, is now dominated by rhapsodic, lyric-poetic overtones, and is sufficiently oblique not to impose itself on the forefront of awareness until after some contemplation of the painting—or even, perhaps, not at all, without some reference to antecedent context; at any rate, small but sufficient sampling of this context (forming a retrospective synopsis of various stages of Lum’s development) was presented in the exhibition to supply interpretive precedent for last year’s work. In some large canvases, on which the paint is not yet dry (literally, for Lum prefers oils to acrylics), representing Lum’s most immediately recent direction, it is not merely difficult to read metaphorical allusions, but simply difficult to read at all; with some squinting, shifting of position and almost strained scanning of the canvas one may detect the familiar vocabulary of Lum’s landscape themes—the ravines, the mountains and roads, now stated entirely in brushwork modulations of a thin white impasto—and an occasional revival of the “perennial metaphor.” Here and there a barely perceptible elision into a very white value of grey aids brush work in defining shape—but seldom. The paintings however are skillfully manipulated studies in that difficult if not altogether unprecedented tour de force, “white-on-white,” and reward scrutiny.

Palmer D. French