New York

Howard Mehring

Sachs Gallery

The issue that will be stressed in this exhibition is how Howard Mehring had achieved a soaked in, all-over dispersal as early as 1958. To call this effect “Minimal,” as the announcement for this exhibition does, is to misrepresent both the artist’s work and an attitude long subsequent to the artist’s production. These pictures certainly make sense in terms of the prevailing high abstraction of the late 1950s in which all-over painting and stained atmospheres had long been achieved, not only in the then widely admired canvases of Tobey, but those of Rothko and Sam Francis as well. Mehring’s production extemporizes on these achievements and only in the degree that the canvases are large do they separate themselves from the Tobey gouaches to which they otherwise owe so much of their glamor. In fact, the proportional smallness of Mehring’s stroke to the breadth of surface strikes me as their most original aspect.

That the pictures were painted in 1958–60 seems to me beyond suspicion—but I take it that they were stretched only quite recently, so generously do the stretcher supports cut into the maculated fields lest any false edge of canvas or ground subvert these floral-like sprawls. The color is applied in small staccato touches, equally dense and aerated throughout, with the artist probably having held several brushes in the hand at the same time while rapidly alternating dottings. The paint is applied thinly and onto a surface grown damp with “turp” during the execution, an impression strengthened by the bleeds and blooms surrounding each touch, unifying the surface and eradicating the constant shift between field/figure inherent in such a system of stroking. In most of the works the color tends to monochromism or tonalism—despite the myriad touches—and in others a handsome reticent color plays between the general drift of the hue and a wrier internal note.

Robert Pincus-Witten