New York

Craig Kauffman

Of the Craig Kauffmans, one might say the cataracts of Polyphemus. Like sullen and iridescent lenses they blindly stare back at the viewer. Much of their power is related to bulged and curved rectangular formats (as in the Ralph Humphreys) and a surge forward into the space of the room. These plastic lentils are not a continuous single surface but rather—were one to slice a cross-section through—they describe two long arcs set one upon the other. The central swell receives the strongest hue which in turn is intensified by a darkening around the seam caused by the meeting of the two arcs. The metallic color is sprayed from behind with a hazy nail-lacquer nacreousness, which seemingly situates the ambiguous color deep within the orb rather than on its surface. The experience of looking into intensifies the ocular impression made by the paintings.

The reticence of Kauffman’s color (though not of shape) and the atmospheric alliterativeness suggest affinities with the solar blushes of, say, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin and a recent arrival, Paul Brach, all, like Kauffman, artists now situated on the West Coast. The temptation would be to ascribe to this hyped out “school” of painters a literalist response to local geography—intense skies, barren dunes and lunar nights. Such geographical and meteorological phenomena perhaps may be inferred as both the source of their predilections for bruised flushes of color and what this color itself is in fact describing. I doubt it. Perhaps, instead, this West Coast group is involved in a search for an exquisite affinement of sensibility—an elusive counterpart to a poised and unsullied spiritual neutrality. Moreover, they bespeak, at the heart of their mock-populism, motorcycle culture and flagrant machismo, the extreme femininity and estheticism germane to such male charades. I am always startled on receiving an invitation to a West Coast painter’s exhibition that, instead of reproducing one of his works, he chooses instead to send out a picture of himself. I come more and more to believe that the exquisiteness of West Coast art, Craig Kauffman’s being the latest manifestation to come East, is really about the flaunting of the most unrepentant narcissism. Lest there be any confusion let me add that I regard this as a positive achievement.

Robert Pincus-Witten