San Francisco

Ben Langton

Bolles Gallery

Ben Langton, in a group of paintings recently shown at the Bolles Gallery, essays a return to the exuberant, heavily impastoed, vividly pigmented landscape styles of late 19th-century European artistic ferment, as seen through that long historical perspective conducive to amalgamating stylistic devices and mannerisms from Van Gogh, Gauguin,Munch and Nolde—and from the Fauves, Der Blaue Reiter and a host of independents peripheral to these movements—much as they have now become embraced by the same melding perspective under the general heading of Expressionism.

However, Mr. Langton’s telescopy is clearly not contrived as a spoof in the spirit of one looking down this long perspective with an eye of impudent modernity to patronize what he scans with clever and supercilious hindsight. Rather does Langton seem innocently and sincerely committed to the somewhat naive premise that if one’s personal viewpoints have an affinity with these antecedent styles, one may validly dismiss the history of art, from the advent of Cubism to yesterday’s manifestations and coalescences of Pop, Op, Hard-edge, Mini and Funk, as though it had all been a terrible mistake, and return to the panorama of European art styles existing as of 1906 for one’s matrix of sources and point of departure.

Elements of primitivism and child-art iconography, such as pinwheel sun-shapes and stylized botanic forms, are introduced by Langton in a manner completely congruent with the style of similar incorporations and adaptations of primitivistic morphology in the European idioms he has taken as his models. Perhaps all of this is consistent with that faint echo of fin de siècle nature-mystical fascination with aboriginal animism which seems to resound in such titles as Earth, Sun, Copulation, Weed People and Butterfly Vision. Langton logically eschews contemporary acrylic media for the textures and impastos of the traditional oil-on-canvas germane to his chosen prototypes. Among a small selection of figure studies in a similarly retrospective spirit was a drawing entitled Woman Reclining—inescapably reminiscent of Matisse.

Palmer D. French