New York

Jake Berthot

O.K. Harris Works of Art

Jake Berthot's painting has always hovered in the vicinity of Marden, Johns, and Motherwell. This is not bad company and Berthot seemed to indicate that he would eventually develop, by doing many paintings which almost made it, some of which were really good. His work seemed credibly different from Marden's—its was funkier and more flamboyant and he was interested in a more exact, robust color. His heavier surfaces sometimes seemed lifeless, as if they didn't have his complete attention. Now Berthot seems to have applied this quality to all aspects of his work.

Each painting is a modest vertical rectangle, slightly wide, and is either gray or a sour olive green. His color, often a saving, seductive grace, has become uniform and chintzy. In each, a rectangle is defined by a low horizontal line, two vertical ones close to either edge and the top edge of the painting. The lines are drawn in the paint or are real, resulting from stretcher separation. The interior section set off by these lines is subtly different from the surrounding borders; they open into a soft misty light, something like a window, something like a Motherwell “open.” The differences are established by slight shifts in color and surface, the outer border often being more reflective or slightly darker than the interior. Laying out the differences between depicted and real lines, hard and soft surfaces, open and closed space occupies many painters right now. Previously they have occupied Berthot with less rudimentary results. Berthot has settled too comfortably into a well-occupied vicinity and sooner than he should have; these paintings are weak from lazy disinterest, not failed effort, and I think, quite simply, that Berthot is better than this.

Roberta Smith