New York

William Pettet

Whitney Gallery

Throughout 1968 it grew apparent that American field painting had entered a phase which might easily be called Mannerist; the fields of Frankenthaler and Olitski had been extenuated to extremes of thinness while being modulated according to particular artistic sensibilities. Dan Christensen, for example, adopted the lyrical, the high and the shrill while William Pettet opted for the dry and the blotched. This episode of utter thinness was followed by a thickening of surface—the fat field, an alternative to which most young artists initially drawn into the continuity of field painting, have at length succumbed. Pettet, too, gives clear indication of this evolution in has present canvases. Where the earlier ones were wiped and patted dry, the new ones delight in viscosity, in thick coils to which final touches of swirling or raked relief are scratched into the surface. The earlier “absent” imagery, except of course for the literal shape of the support, is now filled with the choate, that of long horizontalizing rows. These quasi-chevrons are sourly cosmetic and romantic. Perhaps these pictures negotiate a union between an admiration for Turner—say, the many versions of The Burning of the Houses of Parliament—and an adieu to Noland, whose chevrons are the ideal models, in our moment, for Pettet’s obtusely angled registrations.

Robert Pincus-Witten