New York

Stanley Boxer

The painting of Stanley Boxer is in a much hotter and more worked-up state than the last time I took a considered look at this artist’s work (Artforum, April 1973). Before, any tendency Boxer may have had toward painterliness was controlled by a slack flatness of area, with reverberating, tapelike bands along the edges to cushion the picture against the bald concreteness of the edge. Now, although the strokes are still laid on side-by-side, they are thicker, heavier and much more urgent. They plaster over the canvas in a dense stucco of pigment, no longer leaving bare natural linen as a breathing space between flat main masses.

The character of the forms themselves is now quite different. Less shapely, they are instead jagged, flamelike patches splitting forcefully into the equally heavily worked surrounding field. Boxer is still careful about responding to the canvas edge—almost to the point where it looks like a real worry—but in the new pictures the strokes that pulse along the rim are much more of-a-piece with the rest of the picture and less like devices serving a different, more subservient purpose.

That kind of overall uniformity of attention sometimes comes more readily with a nonrectangular format, as with the tondo, although the price paid may be the productive stress of the formal struggle. Several of Boxer’s new paintings are tondos, and for him this circular format permits a diminution of compositional tension compared with the normal rectangle. The circle seems to imply a more even distribution of tension along its rim, mostly because the structural difference between a corner and a side is eliminated, but perhaps also thanks to the resemblance of a circular stretched canvas to objects like drumheads. In Weepingsnows, a 1974 tondo six feet in diameter, a pair of wavering forms that might aggressively have split through the main field of one of the rectangular paintings, instead spreads more slackly across the surface, fusing effortlessly into the continuous, if pulsating, circular border. The result is unified but inert: the tense relation of forms to format in the rectangular paintings is sidestepped, as the painting becomes a kind of meta-motif, rhetorical instead of expressive.

Considering the entire group of pictures, however, one finds a new intensity of commitment, so that even the difference between a hit and a miss testifies to the fact that risks are being taken. One insistent aspect of this commitment implicates Clyfford Still. Boxer’s new heavy impasto, and even the specifically flamelike shapes which these impetuous licks describe, necessarily bring Still to mind. Boxer’s jagged, flinty motifs especially suggest motifs used by Still in the mid-1940s, but we are of course not dealing with a problem of derivation. The new approach, far more generally, seems by its evocation of Still to indicate a turn away from an easier or more availably pleasurable kind of beauty in painting, and to suggest the force of new artistic ambition on Boxer’s part.

Joseph Masheck