New York

Ken Showell

David Whitney Gallery

In 1963, a loose alignment of very young painters—at once as interdependent as they were at odds with one another—coalesced in, of all places, the Kansas City Art Institute. Andrew Morgan, the director, had invited Ronnie Landfield there and then Michael Steiner, both of whom had been comrades at the High School of Art and Design (the old “Industrial Art”) here in New York. Dan Christensen was a Senior at Kansas at the time and they gravitated to the old hand. Peter Young and then Ken Showell joined the group. But the Kansas City amalgamation was short-lived and its members split, some for a period of cross-country wayfaring, but ultimately for the East Coast. The history of this episode still awaits examination, yet Ronnie Landfield’s recent exhibition and now Ken Showell’s attest to the remarkable, aggressive, even megalo-ambitiousness which each member assisted in confirming and drawing out of each other, although they all have, by now, altered their painting considerably.

The present Showells reveal, for me, some of the dangers inherent in the attitudes of the group—if the group may even be said to have existed. Certainly the scale, the ambitiousness, the openness, the unapologetic experimentalism are there. What appears to have happened is that the method by which the new paintings were executed tends to be experienced as a clogging which interferes with the full power of the aforementioned qualities, qualities to which Showell has access and of which he also has the command.

The new pictures are raw canvas which, when crumpled, is sprayed with acrylics in oddly “unfresh,” dumpy, autumnal colors—browns, greens—like dried Grumbacher pigments (I like the color). After spraying, the canvas is once more spread out and tightly stretched. The process creates batik-like, tie-dye-looking images that have the scored and edgy appearance of crushed foil or polyurethane. What is odd is that this visual experience duplicates certain specious effects in the work of Paul Jenkins, Balcomb Greene and even Edwin Dickinson. The sheerly seductive handsomeness of the image as well as its disembodied neutrality of surface makes one fear that this may only be facade painting. But one does not yet know, since Showell is obviously an artist as gifted as he is young and the critic will have to wait.

Robert Pincus-Witten