New York

Robert Goodnough

Robert Goodnough, in each successive exhibition, displays more reduced and spare paintings which show the slow, careful, almost painful metamorphosis of a single-minded esthetic. The present group of works are almost all limited to very close values of pale grey, white, and beige on buff-colored unprimed canvas fields. Thin, diamond-shaped slivers of a generally small, uniform size flutter like faceted clouds or like leaves blown by a sudden gust of wind in diagonal currents across the canvases. The erratic silhouettes of these clouds fuse softly with the grounds, creating delicate contrasts between the sharpness of the separate units and the quiet, overall emanation of light from the modest coloring of these tiny patches—dove grey, pale greenish-white, lavender, and beige. One cannot help but look to Goodnough’s earlier bouts with Cubism for the sources of these small facets. But they are the fragments of Cubist analysis prized loose from their moorings and set to drift in an indefinite space which obviously no longer refers to objects or surfaces in reality. Goodnough’s paintings have often vacillated between a sure boldness and decorative freedom (especially when he was commissioned to work on a tremendous scale for some public murals in recent years) and a rather hesitant uncertainty which manifests itself in the way in which some configurations fail to galvanize the space and field into which they are dispersed or conglomerated.

The artist now seems to have found a new vocabulary of color value (close tones, rather than the bright fluorescent primaries and dim tertiaries he favored in combination) which has allowed him to balance and temper his occasional difficulties with design, through the factor of light. This avenue had been discovered during the past year while working on a series of silk-screen prints in which the pastel ink-paints helped point the way to this new area of chromatic exploration. Though some of his earlier works are also constructed in terms of colored integers disposed across bare white grounds, one misses the same effect of radiance which is now sensed in the new paintings, and which gives them both a milder and yet more insinuating impact. They do not push at the eye with quite the same immediacy as the work of previous years with its almost carnival-like gaiety. Instead, they seem to address a state of revery. More poetic in feeling and less raucous visually, they still look crisp in spite of their reticence, and these new paintings do feel fresher than a good deal of the earlier work.

Emily Wasserman