New York

James Dearing, Joanna Pousette-Dart, and Tony Vanderperk

Susan Caldwell Gallery

The dialectic in much painting, which concerns Gilbert-Rolfe in both his art and writing, was apparent in a show of three young painters at Susan Caldwell, where, in two cases out of three, it was misinterpreted, with rather complacent, if coherent, results. In the third case, James Dearing’s work, the involvement is more explicitly with the strictly pictorial space of the painting, with a clear lateral measurement and structuring of it which ultimately implicated its physical support and real space. Dearing’s paintings are middle size and squarish; they are divided by a combination of vertical divisions running top to bottom, and horizontal lines, which are more frequent and usually much shorter. Dearing’s divisions, particularly in the recent work, are derived from a series of internal, mathematical relationships. These relationships are not particularly visible, partly because the work is never symmetrical in the obvious sense, but it is clearly not random. Things line up in a vague way: some areas are generally twice as wide as others, some lines are identical in length, some pairs of lines are the same distance apart, although at different levels or on different verticals. The arrangement is loose and the scale broad, and both are responsible for a distinct balance. The sense of this balance and wholeness is the most concrete evidence of the specific, but unspecified internal relationships Dearing employs.

There is often a slight diagonal tension set up by the different levels of the horizontals. Untitled, the squarest painting in the show, has a set of horizontal bars at each edge. Those on the left are a matched pair and slightly longer than those on the right. Those on the right are placed the same distance apart as the left-hand pair, but they are lower in the painting. Also they don’t match; the upper one is thick and green, although the same length as the lower one which is narrow and black. Low down on another vertical running near the center of the painting is a second thick green bar which throws the pairing and the diagonal pull out of whack. The lines in the paintings conform to the axes of their support, but they also create tensions which counter its real squareness. There are two other qualities related to this and through which the painting implicates real space. The lines often set up a scale which differs from the canvas’ size and scale, as if it might apply to other things or extend beyond, existing in spite of the painting. Also there is a way in which Dearing’s paintings, while assertive, are in some ways as low-keyed as the surrounding atmosphere. They are obviously painting, but they don’t assert themselves as a radical departure from the rest of the world. Again, I think this also has to do with the simple reality of scale in the best paintings. Furthermore, the axes of Dearing’s arrangements are both positive and negative: some of them are painted lines, some are shifts in color, some are gaps and some are the actual edges of the painting. This isn’t something which necessarily stresses the reality of the support; it amounts more to an instance of ignoring it, of making it equal with other things in the painting. This last is perhaps a detail, but most of Dearing’s details are considered and significant. For example, the two thick green horizontals referred to above are loosely painted, which is visible despite their size. They actually imply more space than the rest of the surface and much more than elements which are opaque and black. Thus, they function to make the rest of the surface look closed in comparison.

Dearing’s work is interesting and results from a great deal of control which imbues it with a certain caution right now. It can either become more or, hopefully, less cautious.

The other two cases at Caldwell, Joanna Pousette-Dart and Tony Vanderperk, use physical articulation of surface in reverse: to enhance the recessiveness of their paintings, which at first seem illusionistic and ultimately rather leaden. Their work is pleasant to look at and clearly establishes its own limitations. Pousette-Dart paints on canvas coated evenly with sand. Her colors—blues, grays, and rusts—are appropriately earthy and form a regular large square grid, with a number of the units redivided into smaller squares and rectangles. The grid is slightly irregular, resulting in an image which, like the color, reminds me of Klee’s abstractions. The sand texture is used peculiarly; it does not assert surface, but looks rather luminous and soft from a distance, something like a Rothko. At the same time, there is a physical and visual assertion of weight due to this surface and the laxness of Pousette-Dart’s shapes. The effect is a lack of tautness; it looks as if the paintings might slip off their stretchers.

The confusion in Vanderperk’s work seems even more extreme, more covert and more one of attitude, while Pousette-Dart’s may be simply, at this point, one of skill and technique. At first glance, Vanderperk’s paintings look like basic Abstract Expressionist or lyricist paintings. The colors are deep and scum-bled, with an allover, fluid use of paint. As it turns out, Vanderperk’s paintings are not paint on canvas at all, but are made of tempered Masonite and plywood. To quote the statement which accompanies his biography: “The surface is cut open and insertions made, then filled, covered and reworked. Most imagery is brought up by wet sanding. . . . The paints are acrylic lacquers, colored dyes, plastic fillers and primer surfaces.” So finally all the imagery is real; a line is usually a cut into the wood, a shape is just as often a rough indentation. All this seems like a lot of labor considering the complete familiarity of the results, and Vanderperk handles his materials so well that what we have is a replica of a regular painting.

––Roberta Smith