“The Boston Band”

Parker Street 470

As its title suggests, “The Boston Band” is a group show. The band includes painters John Ashworth, Carol Beckwith, Dana Chandler, Elizabeth Dworkin, Carl Palazzolo, Katherine Porter, and Andrew Tavarelli; the sculptors are Elizabeth Clark, David Kibbey, Christopher Sprout, Anthony Thompson, and Dan Wills. Generally, the painters here are both more advanced and more successful than the sculptors, the latter suffering from the kind of “new materials new technology” malaise that has become increasingly pervasive since the late sixties. David Kibbey might be an exception, although it’s hard to draw conclusions yet. He seems to be under the spell of Ron Bladen and/or Tony Smith and has been making monumental, quasi-geometric pieces which, in spite of their imposing presence, still lean toward the literalness of ordinary objects more than to any specifically sculptural identity. Their ambition seems more architectural than sculptural.

Among the painters, Elizabeth Dworkin and Andrew Tavarelli have both produced some promising work, although Katherine Porter is clearly the most serious painter in the show. All three are quite young and, while each shows the influence of older, more established painters, each has chosen ambitious and challenging work out of which to evolve. In addition, all three are primarily involved with color, a domain which seems to require lengthy apprenticeship before truly personal statements can be realized.

Tavarelli’s work consists of acrylic stains washed onto canvas in the manner of Louis or Frankenthaler, albeit in much thinner, more fragile hues. In addition, he uses primed rather than raw canvas. Each painting contains two or three floating veils whose color is concentrated along one relatively sharp but undulating edge. From that edge the color pales quickly into either primed canvas ground or soft, barely visible pastel tints. As a result, the paintings are predominantly white and have the look of misty, oriental landscapes.

Dworkin’s imagery is more rigidly conceived. All o-f her recent paintings are based on the same format—a color field containing a centrally located rectangle and a single wide band that runs horizontally across the entire picture. The spatial relationships that prevail among these elements become, then, a function of color, something like they do in Albers. Dworkin’s color is extremely quiet and muted. She seems to prefer the passivity of tans and beiges and each painting concentrates on different values of one or another of those hues. The results, while consistently warm and alluring, nevertheless seem restrained, as if they longed for an occasional burst of lyricism or a deeper spatial leap.

Katherine Porter’s work is, I think, informed by a tougher artistic intelligence than any artist in the Boston Band show. She too uses a relatively restricted format and a muted color range, but she gets tremendous mileage from both, particularly in the sense of the painting and drawing processes that underlie each work. That is, each painting seems to offer a cumulative view of the gamut of decisions, both logical and intuitive, that went into it. More importantly, each reveals the gamut of feelings with which those decisions were connected.

In Untitled, 1970, the process seems to consist of the following: the canvas is scored with a carefully drawn vertical-horizontal grid; diagonals are then casually sketched in along alternating bands of the grid, resulting in an overall zigzag lattice; finally, in what seems to be a gesture of release, the canvas is arbitrarily scribbled with free-hand charcoal markings. At this point paint is made to recapitulate the preparatory drawing processes: in places it is more or less carefully applied within the zigzag lattice; in some bands it is brushed directly over the penciled grid; and in several areas it is handled expressively, without regard for the restrictions of either grid or lattice. The combination of formality and informality is reminiscent of Stella, that is, of Stella prior to even the well-known black paintings of 1959–60.

Needless to say, the awareness of process in these paintings is neither new nor unique. And the most impressive feature about them is not that they contain such an awareness, but that they do not make it their raison d’etre. In short, they care more about painting than they do about process. In terms of this end, their color is especially meaningful: it characteristically consists of smoky greys, greens, blues, and yellows. In feeling it is sullen, moody, even lonely—like the process of making good paintings.

Carl Belz