Juergen Srunck, Barry Buxkamper

A Clean Well Lighted Place

Juergen Srunck’s color prints on transparent vinyl, sealed in laminated sheets and suspended by clear monofilament cord from the ceiling, approached by way of a very literal format the simulation of something Olitski was quoted several years ago as saying about paintings that would consist of nothing but some colors sprayed into the air and remaining there. Strunck’s prints, admittedly without the ethereal associations or diffuse properties suggested by that thought, reveal an alternative approach to the isolation of color in space with, at least, an illusory absence of supports or boundaries.

Strunck’s method of applying color to vinyl, and also to paper, involves a complex and extremely demanding ope ration of hand-guided rollers, by which the intensity, blending, and angles of bands of colored inks are directed with virtually absolute precision. By grading each channel into its neighboring colors he is able to provide at will a cadence of alternating values as well as hues. This natural sequential structure determined by the mechanics of the process sustains a fluent regularity of corrugations of color undulating across the surface in continual relays; yet there is no acceleration, no anticipation of some crescendo off the edge, simply a sustained momentum that produces its own fine extremity of stress, such as that induced by certain contemporary music with its inference of endless repetition of phrases: Steve Reich’s Violin Phase, perhaps.

Driving along Texas highways you pass cattle trucks, often empty of cattle but with copious remnants of the modern version of the great cattle drive. Such leftovers as you see have pretty well gotten together and you can’t distinguish, as you pass by, much individuality among them. But Barry Buxkamper knows that every cow-pattie is not just a distinct but a sensitive personality, subject to the pathos and all the negligent dangers of frontier territory, and to transcendentalism; and he may make a believer out of you, all the vast unwashed cattle trucks in the state notwithstanding.

Buxkamper draws cow-patties with fastidious and decorous poignancy, although zesty things are sometimes happening to them. Such as getting caught in Kansas territory and ignominiously squeezed by a lynch-rope, or helplessly trapped and bullet-spattered in the crossfire of a shoot-out. Only one of his cow-patties, a metamuffin, has been allowed to evaporate naturally and surely aromatically on its clean white background, its ambience neatly sliced into a crisp chalice on the paper.

It figures he’s a fantasist in legendary land, be it western or classic, and his rendition of the Rape of Europa exhibits the cheerful appreciation for cordial bestiality of both genres. He has summed up Europa’s story in three gently audacious little drawings in the exhibition. These, as other Buxkamper drawings, are annotated with carefully Palmer-pencilled explanations, the economy and courteous selection of words paralleling the modest technique of his drawing, the impropriety of the content of both as neatly paralleled.

Buxkamper’s Europa is not the usual vision of the lovely maid engathering flowers down by the seaside when spied by amorous Zeus. She’s a very capable, forties style dame actually, her hair, lips, shoes, dress authentically detailing her sufficiencies. But then Zeus, even done up as a bull, is neither formidable nor threatening; instead he appears downright inadequate to the occasion. In one drawing he is being outrageously tempted by Europa and responds by nosing her about in a rather quizzical manner. In another he is recumbent, docile, partially hidden by Europa, a particularly impressive figure of a woman here as she idly rests a hand on him. A third drawing is the anecdote of the unavoidable meeting of in-laws prior to the wedding. Evidently, Rhea, Zeus’s mother, is the lady balancing at a tilt on his back, her hair in curlers, garter belt on, a shade blurry of eye and semi-oblivious in her slight indisposition, hardly the most obscure symbol of matriarchal domination.

And there are sacred cows. Buxkamper’s sophisticated paintings of Shiki Vacas are portraits of lovely heifers set in medallions and lavished with ornamental elegance, the uncontested major works in the exhibition. Contrasted with the wild westerns, the technique in these paintings is exceedingly attentive, to a degree of splendid ostentation. In one painting, the bovine center of a mandala composition is surrounded by a plethora of frenetic patterns, fidgety lines, and small, obsessively repeated motifs, halted at last and with genuine optical relief at each corner by cross-shaped frames enclosing the terribly familiar: pastel-tinted reproductions of tho se little laminated-on-pressed-wood pictures of springer spaniels earnestly, tirelessly pointing, of flushed pheasants everlastingly on the wing, etc., the outdoors as we always knew it must really be, handy hangers attached to the back. In another painting the winsome heifer has an especially pensive (nuptial) air, and her portrait is garnished not only with orange blossoms but with realistic Magic Valley color-added oranges.

In these paintings Buxkamper has decked out a mythology of region—a notoriously nostalgic totemism—in a mythology of style, an eclecticism invested with its own brand of sentimentality for public-popular art, or chic art, or serious high art, all of which he treats with genial eccentricity and impartiality. When people refer to regional art in Texas there is still an undeniable association with the 1920s bluebonnet school and its indefatigable perseverance unto the ’70s, or, for the true romantic, there are still paintings being done of horses, which Lawrence Alloway once remarked on, when in San Antonio, in observing some true remaining folk art themes. Buxkamper may be getting in close to the heart of the regional idea, not by denying or patronizing anything dear to all, but by adroitly selecting his provincial subjects, by affectionately according prominence to the deserving, by implying, if a trifle invidiously, some possible interesting functions for them, and by making exquisite discriminations among the conventions of style: and all in high good humor.

Martha Utterback