New York

Herb Aach

Martha Jackson Gallery

Herb Aach’s recent show of serial paintings, called The Precession of the Equinox, develops this seasonal chronometric theme in terms of circles located eccentrically within other circles. This variable induces readings indicating spiral formations that, in this instance, suggest a metaphor for solar or equinoctial movement. The circles—and leftover sectors—are anonymously filled in a full spectrum range of day-glo color. “Precessions . . . a going forward, especially the slow but continual shifting of the equinoctial points alongthe elliptic from east to west . . .” (Webster’s Dictionary).

Taking the tondo as his format, Aach substitutes the Greek pedimental version of dawn to dusk (in the left corner, the chariot of dawn rises, and at the right, that of dusk descends) with the dome of heaven. As the seasonal cycle unfurls, so do Aach’s paintings succeed one through the other, gradually progressing across a glowing spectrum of day-glo primaries. Oddly, for an artist so widely recognized as one who knows all about color, Aach’s pictures in no way suggest the spontaneous or born colorist, but instead a colorist of an essentially analytical turn of mind.

Aach’s cleanly realized works are masterful; yet to say this is to say something ambiguous. The effect of Aach’s pictures, for all their firmness of hand and approach, is that they address known issues—not your everyday known, but not arcane either. Aach’s Precession refers back to a modern issue most likely originating in Balla’s equinoctial paintings of 1911–13 in which the metaphor of the heavenly movements was first realized within a considerably more accidental and improvisational context than Aach allows. To this legacy, Aach brings the orotund implacability of the central European abstract theorists of the ’20s and ’30s. I refer to figures as disparate as Escher and Men. The former forces a representational imagery through an unyielding abstract machine. The latter established the tone of mystical color ideology at the Bauhaus to which even Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were forced to accede. Contemporary models of this attitude are legion and account for much of the lassitude we feel in dealing with works of this kind.

Apart from the niceness of Aach’s idea and its accomplished presentation the larger issues of Aach’s work accommodate a scholastic category—one bracketed on the left by a generative phase, and on the right, by a mannered phase. Owing to our mind-set derived from Neoclassicism—archaic, mature classical, and Hellenistic—and its underscoring by romantic theories of history based on organic metaphors—germination, blossoming, senescence—Aach’s paintings (as well as those of a multitude of like-minded artists) correspond to high cultural achievements, the mature classical, the blossoming phases.

For me, these works occupy the least compelling segment of such a cultural scheme, the scholastic one, in which immense energies are brought to bear on issues of known proportions. Immense input for small return. But that the position is masterful in an academic sense cannot be denied nor refuted.

Robert Pincus-Witten