Los Angeles

Peter Plagens

Dawson Aircraft

Peter Plagens, well known to the readers of these pages, exhibited four large paintings in a loft called “Dawson Aircraft” in downtown Pasadena. Plagens, who for some time has been working with large sheets of paper (including roadmaps) pasted together and then painted, has in this exhibition turned (or perhaps returned) to a classical format; large horizontal canvases, five feet high by twelve feet long. The four works are formal and direct, very much in the high road of American non-representation. Large flat geometric areas of color are interspersed with smaller portions of intense painterly activity, concentrated along vertical edges of the canvas or at the edges of the larger color areas. The four big pictures are serial (a progression of overlaid, edgy, roughly straight-lined color planes and narrow paths, which run from up-and-down in the first two, to leaning in the latter couple) and arbitrarily unique (each is a different “flavor” albeit out of the same post-Hofmann color sense—bright, gray, pale and one vaguely cool blue). Although the pictures look familiar, they aren’t; Plagens’ balancing act is just off enough to avoid advanced graphic design, frontal enough to elude perspective and push-pull, and capricious enough to put a kind of awkward poignancy into his color. However, it doesn’t all work out: the “bright” picture.comes up a bit short against its own chalky acrylic surface, and the “gray” one, the second-best, is hindered by a partial seduction by elegant diagonals and thin buffer zones.

My major criticism of Plagens’ paintings is one of intent, rather than execution. There are in these works many of the implications of Abstract Expressionism, yet one senses that the happy, yet controlled accident of action painting has been replaced with an overriding intellection, a carefully considered awareness as to just how the work in its final form must look. The result is studied and carefully wrought, the areas and little flickerings of color kept under strict control, lacking spontaneity and vitality or even acknowledgment of the possibility of making a “mistake,” a mistake which might well have been welcomed.

Plagens’ paintings continue to deal with some of the major issues of modernist canvas painting, ground that has been well plowed elsewhere, however, and these paintings, while handsome, are neither revelatory nor profound.

Thomas H. Garver