Michael Mazur

The Institute of Contemporary Art

Michael Mazur is well known as a printmaker, though largely through his earlier work, which is essentially “humanist” in orientation. During the past three years he has moved decisively away from that position and his imagery has undeniably become more personal. The shift, moreover, has been accompanied by a change of media, from prints to sculpture and painting. Apparently Mazur wanted more room in which to maneuver. He continued to work with figurative images—body-type contour drawings, anatomical segments seen from sharply elevated or otherwise offbeat positions, and objects from domestic interiors—but he had expanded his space and drawing scale to a point where prints could no longer accommodate it. A series of prints executed at Tamarind in the summer of 1968 tried to force that accommodation, but as the latest work demonstrates, painting turned out to be the most fruitful arena for realizing his new concerns.

Mazur’s ICA show included 10 individual paintings, a couple of two and three-part screens, and a large room composed of six separate panels. The room, or Studio as it is called, consists of a continuous mural-like image that is shaped into an enclosing hexagon and left open on one side. The paintings and screens also contain images from the studio—tables, chairs, easels, etc. All the pieces are delicately executed with an airbrush in blacks, whites and greys. This color range clearly recalls Mazur’s graphics background and suggests some cautiousness about the transition to a new medium. More startling in comparison to the earlier work, however, is the total absence of body images in the new pieces. They consist entirely of spaces and objects or, more accurately, in the equating of spaces with objects. Screen With Two Chairs reveals this equation in particularly clear form.

The screen consists of three panels which stand directly on the floor: the left-hand panel is angled into space, the central one cuts out toward the viewer, and the third is placed parallel to the first. The lifesize image consists of two chairs, each located on the axis formed by the abutment of two of the panels and each placed directly beneath a window that is also bisected. Depending on where one stands in relation to the screen, the images of the chairs and windows appear either sharply distorted, as if they have been folded down the middle, or continuous, as if they extended naturally and without interruption across two of the three panels. Significantly, there is no single position where everything “comes together”; if the chairs seem continuous, the windows do not, and vice versa. In other words, one is constantly faced with facts that seem mutually exclusive: that is, with the physically tactile and three-dimensional placement of the screens on the one hand, and with a continuous and continuously active space that denies physicality on the other. But it is the latter which gains priority and establishes the order of one’s experience of the screen. More than the chairs or windows, space is the depicted object—it billows, warps, folds and flattens in ways that literal space does not.

Screen With Two Chairs is, like the other screens in the show, a kind of “study” for The Studio. Together, the screens serve to work out the spatial program of the more ambitious piece and, because of their programmatic leaning, they run the greater risk of being seen in the context of op-type art. That they ultimately defeat such an association is due to the fact that they offer nothing, finally, to “get”—no phenomenal gimmick of trompe l’oeil and no singularly insistent “point” that would inevitably lead to self-defeat. But The Studio runs risks of its own. As an enclosing piece, it looks environmental, although it never feels that way. Its greater density—of tables, chairs, windows, floors, ceilings, etc.—is also somewhat distracting and a little mannered in appearance. Nevertheless it is in The Studio that Mazur achieves the most compelling experience of a space that is object-like yet non-tactile. In The Studio he also gets a greater volume of space than in the screens or individual paintings. It is not only more complicated, but richer.

What Mazur might do with this is, of course, a matter of speculation. At the moment, however, I know of no figurative artist who has tackled the issues of pictorial space in such a challenging, personal, or modern way.

Parker Street 470 is a renovated firehouse located within two blocks of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The gallery, which opened in November 1969, is being sponsored by the Harcus-Krakow and Obelisk Galleries, and its purpose is to provide exhibition space for large-scale painting and sculpture by both local and nationally-known artists. It is virtually the only place of its kind in the city and, from the evidence of its first year of shows, it promises to become one of the area’s most important galleries, particularly for viewing the work of emerging and ambitious young artists.

Carl Belz