New York

William Conlon, Vincent Longo and Universal Limited Art Editions

Reese Palley Gallery, Hofstra University

The quality of William Conlon’s paintings is not immediately apparent. They have, however, a nagging power so that the elements of his work which proved so irksome before the paintings dissipate themselves in the memory that the works invoke. A young painter, Conlon deals in distribution-composition with a firm, designy sense. The graphic and 2D feel is the aspect of his work I most mistrust since it brings figures such as Paul Rand strongly to mind. Conlon culls his imagery from the vernacular of modern art, isolating motifs which are then blown up, exaggerated and coldly duplicated. Among them one finds, for example, Poons’s ellipses, passages of blurred and superimposed color in rolled on patches typical of later field painting, hard geometrical elements—circles or dogtooth zigzags—such as one finds in late Kandinsky. These then are lyrically if sparely distributed on huge canvases, unfurling across the center, dispersed toward the edge, or turned into huge calligraphic units. All are contrasted against hard white grounds. Even the compositions then are in themselves motifs as they are easily traced to the marginal organizations of the mid-’60s, the hard white ground of ’40s graphic design or, more recently, of Joseph Raffael or Jack Youngerman.

Be these sources as they may. what is curious about the work is not the matching game one can easily play, pairing motif to modern art history, but that a work, perhaps not ripe yet or thoroughly convincing, can be extracted from such highly identifiable visual data. This suggests that abstract painting need not only find its cue in earlier abstract concerns but that it may affiliate with a still emerging sensibility based in Pop, a sensibility which is cool, rather ironical, if still callow.

Vincent Longo has always struck me as an artist of technical achievement whose conceptions remained true to the high production about him. I felt this with regard to his earlier Abstract Expressionist woodcuts which came out of de Kooning and Gorky to say the very least and it still seems true of his present work which is prompted by such sensibilities as Agnes Martin or perhaps even the late John Ferren. As his expert use of the wood gouge compensated for a certain intellectual thinness, so too do the present etchings, with their simple grid formations, interrupted screen sequences, radial configurations or square into circle mandalas. These are arresting less by virtue of their “eternal” compositions than by the refinement of hand brought to bear on their execution. My favorite work begins to emerge in the later ’60s and continues through the present moment. The interrupted screen and minute grid formation, each type depleted of certain structural elements, establish luminous and casually drifting optical counterpoints to the hard diagramming which first brought them into being.

It is rare that I find occasion to report on graphic events such as the above, but the retrospective display of more than a decade’s superb craftsmanship, sheer professionalism and monolithic dedication that Tatyana Grosman has made in the name of such eminent figures as Jasper Johns, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, James Rosenquist, Fritz Glarner and others still, should not go unnoticed. The widely appreciated standards of the Universal Limited Art. Editions, as Mrs. Grosman’s enterprise is called, being- what they are and taking into account the pointlessness of writing one-liners about the work of the artists I have already indicated, let me report this one curious, rather depressing fact revealed in the retrospective; namely, that in terms of its effect, the work of Larry Rivers and Marisol, in 1970,seems trivial to the point of impertinence. By contrast, the work of Jasper Johns continues to address itself to the heart of things, from the earliest, Coat Hanger I, of 1960, through the incantatory lithograph Voice and the First Etchings of 1967–68, a portfolio contrasting the etched hand impression with photoengraving.

Robert Pincus-Witten