New York

David Novros

Bykert Gallery

About two years ago I wrote about David Novros’s paintings as if they were sculpture, a misapprehension elicited by the substance—acrylic lacquer on fiberglass—in which he then worked. This view proved irksome to the artist, although the subsequent evolution of Novros’s work tends to bear me out. Species-issue aside, I was not at all wrong about the superiority and uniqueness of Novros’s sense of color, a gift which had been visible in his work from the congruent templates of his Minimalist-serial mode to the no longer completely systematized “L”s of 1968 which had been the cause of my doubtful perception. In late 1969–70 oil painting on canvas once more appeared in his work. In the present canvas paintings the figure/ ground problem is worked entirely upon the canvas itself rather than in terms of an exchange relationship between autonomous elements and the wall, as had earlier been the case, although when canvas had first come back to his work it was presented in terms of single monochromatic units—and even now certain canvases are formed of autonomous sub-unit elements. The return to canvas was perplexing, but the present exhibition makes it clear with what authority Novros promotes the abstract, vertical/horizontal canvas. I can think of scarcely another painter of his generation who is capable of locating such evocative ranges of color within so private a palette. In this covert sense Novros is as particularized a colorist as, say, Redon. Instead of employing color as a chromatic means of beating down the opposition Novros appeals and insinuates. The present hues tend to a chalky and fresco-like range not dissimilar from the “Etruscan” still lifes of late Redon. The color appears to have been absorbed into a plaster or clay-like surface rather than laid upon canvas. Fresco-like blotchings are not uncommon and often the color grows in saturation as it moves into the rectangle away from its edge. Such effects however are neither systematized nor compulsive. What is perhaps most striking in Novros’s painting, apart from the singularity of his palette, is the affirmative character of his shape relations. He is unafraid of “vertical/horizontal bad taste”—if it can be phrased this way; he is immune to preconceptions of rightness with regard to the rectangle functioning within figure/ground relationships. Often, the ground is stated as a vestigial corridor or thin channel. Within the restrained premises of vertical/horizontal abstraction, Novros’s compositions are eccentric, as eccentric in fact as his range of color. The important thing is that one gains the curious impression that the idea of rectangle to rectangle comparison is eschewed or revoked in Novros’s painting, despite the firmness of his tectonic means. This might help to explain something of the disparity in rectangle scale as well as assist us in understanding that there is, after all, nothing disconcerting within Novros’s sense of part to part comparison. Since the idiom of rectangular abstraction appears to have become for us an empty vein, an academic pursuit or an exercise in mystical ascesis—which is in its way another kind of longing for canonic perfection—Novros is an extraordinary artist for his capacity to reignite the idiom with such authority and uniqueness.

Robert Pincus-Witten