New York

Jack Beal

Frumkin Gallery

A few years back Jack Beal disclosed a world predicated on the crowded and large 17th-century still life with its multitude of spatial subterfuges—chiaroscuro, repoussoir, diagonal recessions. Replacing the scattered goblets and lush fruits of these sensuous organizations with rotissematic nude females and cast-aside lowpoint mohair sofas, Beal began a process of attrition away from brushy, massive modulations in favor of hairline edges and honed drawing, which produce images of sharp spatial ambiguity. While perfecting the extendible webwork of these contours the color grew proportionally to be semi-tropical and dusty hues spread out against greying and neutralizing complementaries. Brushiness was suppressed, then superseded by suave, controlled modulations from hot to cold and a kind of sullen, shimmering iridescence. The forms achieve a peculiarly inflated and weightless bulk, sustained by fattened edges, pipings, and puffed, quilted, sleeping-bag surfaces.

Beal’s craftiness is overriding. Whenever, for example, the contour of a bulbous and protuberant foreground element can intercept the edge of a background figure it does—the shape of knees and pillows, limbs and patterns intermeld. The result is a foxy spatial push-me pull-you which de-activates the traditional role of dense mass and solid weight. Despite the subjects, the experience of the work is foreign to the idea of a thing presented sculpturally in a lit space.

From so many intelligent paintings it would perhaps be foolish to pick favorites—yet my preference falls to a set of three female nudes (as always their gazes averted from the viewer), akimbo in the dreadful breadths of a Thurberesque chair placed in sharp obliquity to the picture surface. The colors are hot, the light modulations conceptualized and mechanical, the contours serrated into varied nexuses of tenseness and relaxation. The subliminal model of the 17th century succumbs to Cubist Miró and the sensations of a dusky sunset in the dunes of some fabulous desert waste. One would imagine that the so-called “next step” would be total abstraction were it not for the fact that Beal has already been there.

Robert Pincus-Witten