New York

Power Boothe

A.M. Sachs Gallery

Like much contemporary painting, Power Boothe’s work involves a precise, systematic method resulting in a total accumulation which is more or less evocative and mysterious. This aspect relates his to the painting of Robert Irwin, Ad Reinhardt, Agnes Martin, and Brice Marden. Boothe’s use of the grid increases his relation to the last two. Another common aspect involves a definite sense of time, a slowness with which the paintings reveal themselves to the viewer. In Boothe’s case what finally emerges is not only the visual complexity of the work, but also the changes which take place square by square and row by row that are partially responsible for it. Instead of an accumulation of repeating parts, we look at an accumulation of parts which are, in fact, different, and we are forced to get into the painting in order to understand the progression and logic of the differences. The progression used is superficially tonal; in each painting there is a shift from pale gray, through deepening shades of gray to dark black. Several of the paintings also involve a shift of elements (lines or dots) within each square or each row, although as often this shift is only an illusion, since the tonal change makes these elements more or less visible. This is the case in Transference, where the horizontal line of a right angle is visible in the top squares of the painting while the vertical line is visible in the bottom ones; each square contains both lines but because of the tonal sequence they are unevenly emphasized or obliterated. There actually are two movements going on in Moon, where each square has a black dot at its center around which rotates a white dot, shifting one position with each horizontal row. The top-to-bottom, row-by-row progression from black to pale gray further complicates this rotation: the white dots are prominent at the top, the black are prominent at the bottom and both are moderately visible in the middle.

The paintings, like their titles, evoke the movement of light and time, and also the process by which they are made. It seems as if Boothe has taken the idea of slowing down perception and made it literal. The most elaborate paintings be- come illustrative, and ultimately dissipate their own mystery—in some cases the light seems to actually pass through the painting. In Hours the rotation of a line around the center dot of each square results in a flurry of movement in the lower corner of the painting which is almost cinematic. The simpler paintings are better and basically slower because they are more single. On another level, they are faster because they are not weighed down by the fastidiousness of Boothe’s technique or the convolutions of his ideas. The weaker paintings are overelaborate in their systems and laborious in their making—the result is at once too conceptual and too decorative. The better paintings are more straightforward; they avoid these two weaknesses by going between them. Boothe still has to proceed beyond his sources. The watercolors, like the simplest paintings, are clear and swift.

Roberta Smith