New York

Peter Young

Castelli Gallery

The work of painter Peter Young has not yet been exhibited in a one-man show in New York, although several group shows in the past season have included his canvases. The Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C., provided a three year look at the rather inexplicably drastic alternations his thinking has gone through during this period. A recent exhibition shared with another young New Yorker, David Diao, at the Castelli Gallery also aired three newer paintings in the “dot” series from 1968. At his best Young combines a delicate touch and a range of often surprisingly pastel color with a conceptual toughness and elasticity particularly apparent and distinctive in works like his No. 5 (1967) shown at the Corcoran, a black field punctuated with tiny constellations of lavender, blue, and green, bordered by a navy blue band which abruptly and forcefully constricts the lyrical, drifting, starry formations into the two-dimensional artifice of the field. At his weakest, Young’s approach becomes merely canny, and an easily automatic trickiness can diminish the impact and expression of the paintings into superficial or clever color/ pattern dynamics.

The more overtly analytical turn of mind evidenced in some of the earlier (1966–67) black line graphs on light blue or cream fields—parallel gradients or concentric rings diagramming some imaginary functions or systems—surfaces again in the puzzle-like interlocking areas of the recent colored dot paintings, though more romantically and irregularly. At both the Corcoran and at Castelli, a number of these works were hung; white primed squares are carefully flecked with one-half inch. (or smaller) circles of acrylic paint which form an almost relief-like surface in contrast to the flickering, pulsing, optical rhythm these dotted screens set up. Primary yellow, blue, and red are combined with orange, green, purple or brown to form tightly interconnecting jigsawed areas; the overall effect of perhaps five or six individual colors usually dissolves into a visual grouping of two basic color configurations, such as red/ orange or green/blue. The amount of white space left between these dots also accounts for the way in which solid single color dots blend across the field to become a dispersed pastel mesh, far less palpable than the very tactile, almost lumpy spots would suggest upon closer inspection. An earlier work in this series exhibited at Castelli showed Young to be working with these dots in a less constricting manner than the rigorously developed “puzzle fields”: instead, loosely interweaving and indefinite arcing channels of spots are freely looped across and around the canvas, spaced out, rather than grouped into particular constellations or zones (as in No. 5 and two other paintings like it, made also in 1967). Although this picture looked experimental and perhaps less coherent than the two others hung at Castelli (or than a few from this same series which appeared in Washington) I think it became symptomatic for me of the way in which the work generally falls short of the very pungency on which it seems to be premised. The gently pulsing dots create an almost inevitable frontal “zing,” a kind of energized blinking projection which is then slighted by the manner in which areas are made to lock together so tightly and unilaterally across the flat white grounded field. Rather than open up to the eye, these densely organized zones often seem to close off both the flow and the rhythm which their intricate groupings and chromatic variations aim to activate. Although it sounds like a tense contrast of elements, strangely enough in my experience the effect is just slack, instead of tautly interesting.

Emily Wasserman