New York

Robert Natkin

Poindexter Gallery

In one of his two continuing pictorial idioms, Robert Natkin, at Poindexter, composes by means of repeated rectangular modules of jigsawed forms—bars, color grids, chromatic bubbles, and irradiated, voids—echoing each other up and down or laterally across the picture façade. Value contrasts are extreme, as is the range of the spectrum, but the total effect is dry, “ironed on,” even sometimes paper thin. A rather metallically graded series of greys or its equivalent in a harmonic registration of colors glints through the patterning in the form of intervallic registers of tone. Natkin plays with densely squeezed vertical stripping against more open, horizontal buttressing, so that one feels each picture to be like an accordion, or a bellows compressing and shaping air. Moreover, the spatiality of these works is extremely complex—some of their slats and facets existing on the surface, others whirling away into illimitable distance. But, ultimately, it is a complexity that, in the extreme opaque cleanliness of its rug-like design and texture, diffuses and trips the attention. It runs riot over our powers of computing and relating elements too small-scaled for their large format, despite their serial ordering. These progressions have a certain ambivalence about them for they seem to allow for discovery of relationships while falling at the same time into a systemic ruling. I tend to see this fierce orchestration as his means for hemming in, or rather webbing and girding the most combustible pictorial reflexes. This vision’s trouble is that it proliferates so busily on a local level that the picture comes to be a succession of insistent but isolated episodes whose sum does not often equal an integrated whole.

Yet Natkin works another vein, recognizably his, but altogether looser, gauzier, more open. Here there are faint sprays, cottony daubs, and free floating color smudges. In accord with this more intuitive framework, the coloring wafts itself away into tinted and pale nuances. The burden of emotion nevertheless displayed by both styles is remarkable in our cooled down esthetic environment, for its effervescent joyousness. One feels, however, that it is a willfully imposed rather than an organically achieved joy—an unfathomable and beleaguered commitment to itself.

Max Kozloff