New York

Jack Tworkov

French & Co. and The Whitney Museum

At French and Co. and at the Whitney Museum, Jack Tworkov showed a series of paintings done during the past three years or so which resist a systematic reading. At French there were three paintings hung on one wall that seemed to form a beautiful progression: the first had a drawn grid of squares and parallelograms emerging from a field of spiky green strokes on a red ground. The second brought the grid up so close to the surface that only one complete figure, a parallelogram leaning right, remained while the strokes became dense and showed just a few traces of a light green ground. In the third the painting itself seems to coincide with one of the grid squares and the upward right-hand drift is carried by the strokes alone; the whole field seems to be bent in conformity to the strokes which are very dense and dark gray-green. The three paintings read from left to right almost as any one of them did, so one expected that they were hung in the order they were painted. But no, the first was Crossfield I (1968) and the second and third were both Untitled (1967). To me this suggested that the apparent control manifested in almost every stroke of some of the new paintings is a function of Tworkov’s conception and not just his hand’s habit. For all that they are tighter and more deliberately designed, the new paintings seem just as various as his work in the ’50s.

The beauty of many of the new paintings seems to come from the interplay between spaces evoked by drawing and those evoked by the handling of paint. While the drawn areas are not figurative in any sense, they sometimes influence the pattern of strokes in such a way as to produce the feeling of figuration: the direction of strokes determined by an outline. That may be why the progression of canvases at French described above is so affecting—even though the canvases are not in chronological order, they seem to show the stroke gaining ascendancy over line, abstraction over figure, and painting over drawing. But in individual paintings that drama is never so decisive, indeed, sometimes it seems to be too carefully controlled as in Situation L at French, for instance, where the field is pulled in at the sides to keep the drawn lines from controlling the actual corners and arrogating too much space to their dimension. In another instance though, a uniform margin at the edge in Crossfield II at the Whitney makes a sort of figure of the field itself, something which is resisted by color in this instance more than by the quality of stroke. Though the exuberance of a painting like Bloomfield at the Whitney is pleasing, the most powerful of the paintings were the darkest, Note (1968) at the Whitney and Untitled (1967) at French; in both of these there is the sense that the surface has been taken over by paint, not through Abstract Expressionist clout but by a kind of natural exfoliation.

Kenneth Baker