New York

James Bishop

Fischbach Gallery

James Bishop’s five new paintings at the Fischbach Gallery are as intense as the ones he showed two years ago were cool. Of the five canvases, all are square, and all but one done in burnt sienna hues. The odd painting is colored deep violet, highlighted with traces of pink.

In these new paintings Bishop seems more than ever to be trying for transparency of surface without space. In each painting the lower half of the canvas is uniformly empty. The upper half is taken up with a pair of flat square boxes defined more by facture than anything else. In three of the paintings the bands that define the squares are brushed with traces of a lighter hue, an effect which somehow does not look like modeling, except in the violet picture, where it looks like shading in negative. An almost stifling sense of fullness and tightness attends these paintings, and any hint of value difference attracts the eye because it seems to relieve pressure. In one painting slight skeins of rose invade the lower half of the canvas and the effect is not a spatial illusion but its affective equivalent. There is emphatically nothing to see inside these paintings, there is only the surface and the way it is built up and that fact comes across as a real denial of access to anything that is not on or in front of the surface. Illusionism is betokened only by the way the painted squares have been defined, and the order of their definition can be seen from the way the horizontal and vertical strokes “overlap.” The center horizontal stroke was made first, then the center vertical, the top and bottom horizontals afterwards, and finally the side verticals. The strokes have no thickness, yet they appear to overlap and this appearance conveys a literal fact about the painting, the order of its making.

The concentration of illusionism in facture and its consequent connection with process feels here like an unnecessarily ungenerous move. Bishop’s art doesn’t feel like it’s backed by the rationale or spirit of, say, Ad Reinhardt’s or Robert Ryman’s.

Kenneth Baker