New York

Joyce Kozloff

Joyce Kozloff’s show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery included a half dozen paintings together with small groups of drawings and lithographs. The basic procedure is an assertive geometrical compartmentalization. The compartments—which are mostly rectangular and belong to bricklike horizontal registers, although diagonals generate some triangular forms—show an independent handling of a highly patternistic character. The interest is in the way the compartments, while dealt with separately, contribute to rather than distract from the unity of surface.

Basically this unity depends upon the treating of the geometric patches with overall patterns—stripes, parallel strokes, Agnes Martin-like grids, dots—so the work as a whole stands in macroformal analogy with the patches themselves, like a flag composed of intrinsically flaglike heraldic motifs or a patchwork quilt made out of already patterned fabrics. It isn’t altogether as simple as that, yet even the differences between the outer and inner systems are complementary: regular patterns rather casually painted inside the compartments, as against rigid but asymmetrical overall governing compositions.

The compartmentalized system is open in a curious way to outside influence. It seems to establish a setup in which there are areas safely sealed off for experimentation, protecting the painting as a whole. Thus, for instance, in Buffalo Dance, 1973, there are parallel, one-stroke Olitski-like swipes in a compartment at the bottom near the lower edge. The invading of one kind of painting by another carries a high degree of risk, although here it seems to work well as a way of meeting and entertaining a new idea.

If Kozloff’s works suggest works by other artists, however, they do so more generally and comprehensively than that. Many of the patterned compartments are Klee-like in their organically varied inorganic regularity: lots of little crisscrossed boxes drawn freehand, without uptightness, in wavy grids. In another way I find Kozloff’s light surface patterning, and her interest in patches of parallel lines and in ramplike diagonals similar to Ed Moses’ attractive paintings of the last couple of years.

Although the proportion and distribution of tones in Kozloff’s paintings change, there is an overall earthiness of tonality. Colors seem chosen for their intrinsic richness rather than by hue or even value, and each picture strikes its own chord—a simultaneous ring which cannot be reconstructed from the separate contemplation of the variously colored parts. This seems to involve a sophisticated primitivism of approach, just as some of the titles suggest tribal art of a particularly clean, dry, sort: Buffalo Dance, again, or Enchanted Mesa, 1972–73.

Kozloff’s paintings grew on me. They once struck me as arbitrary and fussy, but I read them now as unique but integrated expressions of a rich conception. They are rhythmic but simultaneous, vigorously designed but composed substantially of color, hard-edged in conception but informed with executional vitality.

Joseph Masheck