New York

Don Cole, Richard tum Suden

In the current period of post-Minimal impurity, a tendency to overdo is beginning to emerge that may undermine recent gains in pictorial complexity. There was considerable evidence to this effect on the walls of the Whitney Museum during the Biennial where overly detailed and redundant paintings seemed to predominate. Much the same must be said for the recent show of paintings by Don Cole and Richard Tum Suden at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery.

What possessed gallery or artists to mount a joint exhibition of two such similar painters is beyond my comprehension. Both artists use a wide variety of imagery and handling within a given work—Cole on loose sheets of canvas tacked to the wall, tum Suden on traditional stretched canvases. Both men disperse visual incident over their surfaces is such a way that the pigment seems to be located on a transparent screen in front of the picture plane. Figure-ground distinctions, in other words, are all too explicit. Depicted forms participate little in either the literal or the illusionist space of the canvas as a field, although paint is dripped, splattered, and stained into the canvas in widely differing strategies, and although there is deliberate overlapping. Both men employ a broad color spectrum, but tend to isolate their colored figures at least partially against the ground at all times, which compromises their color’s opticality.

Richard tum Suden’s paintings are packed with overlapping lattices of dot, stripe, and daub patterns, each moving in a different direction. The result looks textural, but flat, like a batik print. He disturbs the monotony of the abundance of visual detail by the insertion of a few large, more nearly complete forms that have an organic, slow insistence about their presence. Rarely does he allow stabilizing horizontals or verticals to put the chaos of his intermeshed paint in order. He combines realistic imagery, such as a cartoonlike whale, with grids and organic forms, paralleling the use of both automatic and studied painting procedures in each painting. One is tempted, in the face of so much contradictory visual information, to beg for a return to more readable painting.

Don Cole’s paintings are easier to read, with more considered compositions, and are, therefore, more effective. He uses thrusting diagonals, centered verticals, and groundline horizontals as large important units within the paintings. These elements throw his small detail into relief, forcing it into a position of lesser importance. One is especially grateful for this because much of this small incident consists of appended bits of trite, kitschy junk and a pastiche of painterly punning. Unfortunately, these attempts at humor only detract from the paintings’ seriousness.

In his best work, The Road to Lanado, one tends to forgive him his vagaries. The artist plays large dynamic forms that pass through the field against dense nodes of complete forms, and a large area of freely applied paint. Horizontal dashes imply landscape depth which is contradicted by the large forms that reassert the painting’s flatness. It is the most spatially complex work in his show, and seems to have been the most thoughtfully conceived painting in the entire dual exhibition.

It is a highly dubious procedure to make a work of art that embodies a wide range of contradictory attitudes toward the seriousness of painting itself. A work of art needs to be multi-leveled in its meaning, but may not be so in a self-destructive way. The combination of high art, decoration, and kitsch can only be successfully accomplished within total images that are brilliant enough to outshine their weakest parts.

April Kingsley