New York

John Salt

O.K. Harris

It is not often that I’m sympathetic to representational painting as representationalism tends to function as a crutch, a supposed measure both of technique and quality based on the existence of a prototype—nature—against which the artist can measure his achievement; the closer the approximation to nature the more successful the work of art. The argument is false but once more prevalent. Which is why I’m happy to write about John Salt’s car pictures.

It is apparent from Salt’s present painting—earlier, the wrecked cars were painted in an Expressionist manner akin to Bacon—that the automotive wreck is a point of strict reference but the representation is handled with a tactful respect for surface. This is facilitated by the sprayed thinness of color which emphasizes the matte continuity of grainy cloth and which affects us as a dull, even atmospheric, surface. The composition is curiously unincidented for all of the vehicular specificity—torn leatherette, cracked safety glass, crushed hoods. The anguish of the apparent subject continues the Expressionist cast of the earlier work but the casual displacements and lack of formal closed composition transform the pictorial entity into organizational atomizations which, if nothing else, go back to the Degas equipages of the 1870s.

Which sets the theory quite awry. For, if representationalism works against the anecdotal situation inherent in this mode, is it not the enemy of the pictorial qualities which I have stressed? The end of such speculation is that if theories of critical evaluation are at variance with critical evaluation itself, then how much more divorced must they be from emotional apprehension!

Robert Pincus-Witten