New York

Frank Lobdell

Martha Jackson Gallery

Frank Lobdell, born in 1921 in Kansas City, Missouri, has spent most of his artistic life on the West Coast. This shows only in the slight influence of California light in his sense of color. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the development of his painting, but the works I’m reviewing here seemed academic in the fullest sense, which is to say that the references they make to Matisse are at least accompanied by a high degree of technical control. Otherwise, these pieces of work reveal a tendency to articulate a cliché and then persistently lapse into it—the same curved line seems to control a corner in painting after painting. To me, the most interesting works in the show were two paintings called, respectively, Fall and Summer, both of which were painted in 1973. They are so similar as to invite comparison. Both have a sandy colored field attached to the perimeter at all points except the lower right and the top left. A loosely drawn (Matisse-like, in fact) chain of serpentine drawing links the bottom left to the top right, and suggests a figure. Fall has a figure superimposed, or concurrent with, this serpentine progression. Summer does not. The incidence of the painted figure in Fall allows Lobdell to introduce color toward the center of the picture, red in the lower part of the torso, blue in the upper. This leads to a corresponding increase in chromatic activity around the edges. Summer has no painted figure, and is in consequence a much less colorful painting. Apart from the sandy color of the field, Summer is a predominantly bluish black and white painting, with a little red, yellow, or blue added here and there to reinforce the drawing. But the space of both pictures isn’t significantly altered by the difference between them, and one is obliged to wonder why. I think it may be because color really does get to be totally controlled by drawing here, and drawing is in Lobdell’s case entirely an affair of gesture as iconography. The references to Matisse’s space prevent Lobdell from manipulating his own. And perhaps what I’m saying is that this kind of gesture cannot, at this time, amount to any more than a parody of itself: an attempt to rediscover through duplication that which calls for restatement.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe