New York

John Button

Kornblee Gal­lery

The studied mood of romantically tinged psychological isolation which the four representational oils by John Button (at the Kornblee Gal­lery) aimed to evoke was somewhat compromised by their curiously clumsy and sometimes hasty execu­tion. In Canadian Street Button shows an empty street with an ominously silhouetted corner, the dormered and shuttered windows of its buildings blank and dark, mute to the single figure of a woman crossing the in­tersection. The suppression of de­tail, the starkness of the lighting, the Hopperesque quality of alienation expressed by the scene itself are all effective devices for the creation of the subdued though tense drama Button wants to achieve, but these careful workings are belied by the noticeably awkward rendering of the figure. (That the woman herself is an awkward personage is not ex­cused by an evident deficiency in the rendition.)

Lake Erie, pale mauves and pinky greys with foggy reflections of fac­tory smoke and sandbars, seems to be more in keeping with the roman­tic and lyrical side of Button’s sen­sibility. This was given a fine show­ing with a wall full of tiny, poetic gouaches of snow and lake scenes, misty pine forests, and glowingly phosphorescent sunsets over appa­ritional horizons and far-off hills. The vision in these smaller works is much fresher than that of the larger oils, whose compositional severity and straining for psychological distance was weakened by their technical failure to come to grips with that conceptual effort. Compared to the gouaches, the bigger paintings even looked a bit fussy at times. I much preferred a small study of a grey shingled sun porch, or a soft spec­tral clump of pines, both composi­tionally, and for their emotional tone, to the sophisticated measure of an oil like Fire Island, which for all its competence, lacked the distinct per­sonality of the smaller works.

Emily Wasserman