New York

Jim Sullivan

Paley and Lowe Gallery

In Jim Sullivan’s first one-man show at Paley and Lowe, his huge acrylics on unprimed canvas confront the antinomies that were present in his earlier work but, through a process of elimination, achieve a fresh and wholly different thrust. The painting process is lucid and strong, the subtleties and complex relationships gradually unfold. Using sticks of various sizes to apply the colors, Sullivan hints at containing the action within a suggestion of margin (and indeed, his previous works already presented a concern for edges). The colors are usually limited to a triad—such as red, blue, and cream, mixed and nuanced, and varied even further by different strokes and thicknesses to the point of plastic outlines around wide bands. (Picasso once said to Christian Zervos: “Actually, one works with few colors. But it makes them seem a lot when each one is in the right place.”) These wedged on, pushed, streaked, sometimes dripped, sometimes crumbling paints reveal a new taste for color within Sullivan’s development: color is no longer merely a conveyor of optical sensations, it now assumes crucial structural function. Swatches and broad bands throb away vertically, mashing across softer, less definite areas, or else curtailing stormy vehemence. By permitting crackling breaks in thick gobs, the artist elicits a contact with the surface. By slightly muddying the powerful side verticals with colors picked up in the middle areas, he moors the striving bands to the surface, thereby assuring a unified composition. Strong value contrasts second the tension between the lateral and central areas and almost negate balance. The paintings are virtually pulled apart centrifugally in a kind of tempestuous response to those peaceful canvases in which Barnett Newman, through the precise placing of a vertical stripe, made the painting fairly billow out. A semi-planned obsolescence may be inherent in that the paints might some day separate from the unprimed canvas. The very last works in Sullivan’s show already point to a more emotional development.

Joachim Neugroschel