New York

John Hoyland

Emmerich Gallery

John Hoyland’s condition as a painter is far more interesting than what he has so far painted. His oeuvre, at least as it has reached this country, appears to deal in an enumeration of modernizing phenomena which, when reenacted in what seems at this distance to be a provincial arena, transforms and reduces them into decorative features. Stated another way, Hoyland’s problem is how to be an American painter while being English and situated in England. The answer is that so far he has not succeeded, though, as the result of a surface reading of his work, and to judge by the quarters at which he is exhibited, many may think that he has. The upshot, in the present exhibition, is that one sees his work as not being authentically his own but something on the order of here a Hofmann, there a Poons, this from early Guston, that from immediate considerations of fat field painting. At best, the fine tuning of Hoyland’s transatlantic antennae attests to his openness and impressionability. But despite its patent good-naturedness I find his painting artistically oppressive because I sense no conviction, no raison d’etre for all this “push-pull,” “drip,” “gesture,” “openness,” “allover,” “big canvas,” “horizontal-binary composition,” “fat fields,” “dayglo acrylic,” and so on, apart from purely decorative appeals, which is what I believe happens to the physiology of Abstract Expressionism when divorced from the psychological necessities which impelled it into being in the first place. Decoration, however, may be reason enough, because these Hoy-lands stand in relation to late Hofmann the way Soulages or Mathieu once stood in relation to Kline or Pollock; that is, as painterly artists whose ingrained absorption of the humanizing qualities of the Enlightenment prevented them from ever coming to grips with the primitivism inherent in the American Abstract Expressionist idiom.

Robert Pincus-Witten