New York

James Bishop

Fischbach Gallery

That Jim Bishop has lived away from the United States for the past decade (he has been painting in Paris) accounts, I think, for the sense of private, circumscribed ambition and of a self-exploratory enterprise which one feels upon viewing his paintings. Work from the past two years shown at the Fischbach Gallery reveals that Bishop has not particularly cared to keen pace with the blown-up scaling and brilliant, hard-edge color fields which emerged in the work of other American painters who had worked in Paris (Kelly, Held, Noland) and in the post-Abstract Expressionist paintings done here in the late fifties and early sixties. Nevertheless, he has been able to draw a modestly understated and attractive body of work from obviously personal resources. His paintings all measure between 6 and 7 feet square, and the workings of several series are exhibited. The squares are usually divided into horizontal halves by a white section above or below a colored area which may then be portioned into quarters or into pane-like divisions of a single, sometimes modulated color. Early (1967) is crested with an area of soft panes of dry olive green—but the aridity of the colors Bishop often uses (ochre, cobalt blue, orange-scarlet, rust) is frequently counteracted by a diluted or slightly washy application, or by the rippling, imprecise horizons and diffused seams which demarcate the colored regions. These nearly invisible modulations along the edges of the panes are almost apparitional amid a broad overall impression of intense color saturation contrasted to white. The effect is of a pristine, restrained sensuousness that is far from stylish, but carries with it, at its best, an elusive assurance.

Full (1967) seems to mark the beginning of a new line of thought which bodies forth in two exhibited works, Month and Thinking (both 1968), and in one undisplayed buff-pink checkerboard canvas. Full is still broadly portioned into halves, then the upper half is quartered; the gentlest harmony of oyster white, pinkish-beige, and greyed white emanates with a soft, iced light which rescues the painting by blurring its rather simple, uninventive organization. Month and Thinking are differently designed from Full, with their low zones of pale, watery, glowing color hovering at the bottom edges of otherwise empty grey-white fields. In the former, a strip of blue and a more intense violet band suggest a faint perspective recession into some dimly visionary landscape. Thinking superimposes a cloudy bluish and greenish trapezoid over three pink columns ranged across the lower border of the trapezoids, like some arctic mind-scape, reticent, and perhaps mysteriously unaware of itself. The sense that the halved and quartered paintings represented the end or exhaustion of a certain train of thought was alleviated for me by these last works, which look like a much more original and less self-consciously stiff development for Bishop.

Emily Wasserman