New York

John Ferren

A. M. Sachs Gallery

John Ferren’s was a sympathetic show, and while I confess that for me part of its appeal is in the memories it evokes of bygone days, when this artist seemed more important than he does today, the exhibition is worthwhile in another respect, too. The work in it may be divided roughly into two classes, those paintings which are entirely rectilinear and the others. The latter are obviously emotive in their interest; without intending to make an irrelevant and unilluminating analogy, I thought that many of them were rather like Tantric art in their insistence on formal symmetry when the feeling behind them was anything but rigid. And of course Ferren’s color is even more emotive than his form. The reason I thought the show was worthwhile is simply that I realized its qualities of feeling are to be found in a great deal of coloristic work which, in appearance, is so rigorously disciplined and cerebral—for example, in the work of Rothko, Newman, Louis and Olitski, to name a few. Really it is an obvious point, especially if one considers the early work of these artists, but it is a fact that is almost always lost sight of and which a certain critical vocabulary has ended by burying altogether—generally the vocabulary with which color-field painting is discussed. I think also that in this respect Ferren’s work calls attention to something that is more or less constant in American painting—Dove is one of his closest antecedents, as he is of many coloristic painters today, and it may be useful to remember that what is going on in this cosmopolitan style is not basically different from what can be found in more insular predecessors.

Jerrold Lanes