New York

Larry Poons

Lawrence Rubin Gallery

In his new paintings at Lawrence Rubin, Larry Poons moves further away from the dot and lozenge constellations that were his trademark. A sense persists of vast imaginary places of which we are offered segments, but place’s feeling has changed, in the show’s two major paintings, from air to earth, from what often approached the spectral to suggestions of immense topography.

In a small but prominent passage in Night Journey, painted last year, Poons had already begun to deliberately alter his canvas’s surface, in this case to blister it. He has expanded this interest. The surfaces of Dangerous B and Yang-Tse seem not painted in the traditional sense but the product of a process—the apparent shrinking, through drying, of a worked-up surface. A formal result is that Poons’s configurations hover at the boundary between two and three dimensions, between area and contour, between plane and actual relief. When behind this subtle, real interplay the works suggest a depicted third dimension as well, the eye is kept busy indeed.

The fascination I noticed among many viewers with how the work was done suggests the degree to which painting technically lags behind sculpture. Sculpture has ventured beyond its ancestral beaux-arts materials, marble and bronze. But the equivalent beaux-arts materials for painting, paint on canvas, painting has not abandoned. In fact the material still simply means art in two dimensions. This is a pretty strong hold. But Poons, in a way, challenges it, hence the extreme interest in his means. It is true he uses paint, but not directly, as with a brush stroke, spatter, spray or stain. Instead he arranges conditions and steps aside. The last instrument on technique is no longer a human hand but a mechanical process.

Jean-Louis Bourge