New York

Peter Gourfain

Bykert Gallery

Peter Gourfain’s exhibition would appear to have been an astonishing volte-face were it not that the drift of his present work is repeated among a wide front of artists of lesser and greater reputation—a shift in sensibility which knows no particular generational commitment either. Rejecting the elaborate fixation of his earlier arcaded registers, Gourfain opts for as intense an image as would be open to an art still based on classicizing premises and a sudden need for tactile immediacy. Instead of paint, Gourfain has taken up monochromatic pastel applied directly upon the surface of the wall. Using a regular image of approximately parallel edges (sometimes contrasted as to direction—perpendicular, diagonal), Gourfain works away from a heavily applied edge through a constantly degraduated modulation until no pressure is applied at all to the somewhat sticky pigment. Then he begins again. One would imagine that an optical or spatial reading were intended and that these patterns were a kind of raked or pilastered repoussoir. But I think that the physicality of the act in terms of the pigment held directly in the hand and the change in muscle pressure itself is the primary issue for which the patterns are merely pretexts. As the modulation lightens, more of the real surface variation of the wall emerges through the pastel—as the tooth of the rag paper rises through the pressures of Seurat’s drawings in conté crayon.

Gourfain’s “sheaves,” if I may call them that, and ray lines appear ruthless and rudimentary as if through such parietal configurations he was somehow able to exorcize the complex classicizing features of his earlier painting. Still, remains from the past are preserved—registration, enumeration, and rigorous clarity of intention. What has been lost is the intermediary support (and the paint if not the pigment). I still have not decided whether I am more impressed by so expository a divestiture of such conscientiously achieved and hard-won features or by the apparently self-defeating grandiloquence of a mural art which will be lost when the gallery is scoured down and repainted for the next exhibition.

Robert Pincus-Witten