New York

Jake Berthot, Jim Huntington And Harvey Quaytman

David McKee Gallery

The recent three-man show at the David McKee Gallery was in the nature of an interim report on the artists featured: Jake Berthot, Jim Huntington And Harvey Quaytman. In summary, Huntington has made a change, Quaytman has stayed put, and Berthot has done some of both.

Berthot made his mark with Rothko-esque color expanses set in “frames” of a related color. Last season, he shifted to a smaller format. The surface became less atmospheric; the framing device took on overtones of carpentry. In other words, a door- or wall-like effect was achieved. One of these paintings appeared in this show. Along with it were paintings on paper—something new for Berthot. Layers of enamel—usually grayish or brownish, but occasionally a bright, commercial yellow—are applied and scraped off. The resulting texture is extremely familiar. One finds variants of it in painters as different as de Kooning, Johns and Diao. This texture has begun to work as a metaphor for painting’s doubts about itself: it is the outcome of both offering and retracting paint itself. Berthot effected further retractions by scraping the still-wet surfaces of these works on paper with a sharp point. This produced wiry, knowingly awkward figures with a New York-ishly calligraphic quality; that is, they remind one of various sculptors’ drawings-in-space. The painted surface is disrupted by reminiscences of sculpture. More painter’s doubts. The trouble is that doubt loses its force when it is used to generate props in an ongoing melodrama about the trials and tribulations of painting.

Harvey Quaytman appears to hold doubt at bay by committing himself to a single format for a rather long time. He showed here a canvas in his still fairly new asymmetrical, “anchor-shaped” format. A number of drawings accompanied it, including one which demonstrates the way the “anchor-shape” is generated. It seems to derive from a vertical rectangle upon which another rectangle of the same size has been superimposed at an angle. The “anchor-shape” appears as certain lines are drawn to connect to the two rectangles. Some of these lines follow the motion of the second rectangle as it assumes its angled position; some trace the relationship of the rectangles after they are set. At any rate, none of this information is of any use in looking at Quaytman’s full-sized works. The one on view here does well enough in performing its assigned task, which is to present a well-designed balance between the left- and right-hand sides of its odd shape.

Jim Huntington previously showed wood and steel sculptures in a geometric style. Apparent simplicity hid interior spaces that were a bit difficult to work out. Now he has shifted to slabs of steel and roughly finished slabs of stone. There is a much tighter relationship between the elements of each piece as they stand interlocked with each other. As a result, the slot-like spaces they define are more elusive than in Huntington’s earlier work. John Duff’s recent slotted fiberglass sculpture is recalled. Where Duff employs the light-gathering and diffusing properties of his materials to some advantage, Huntington does the same with the insistent opaqueness of his. In other words, Duff’s spatial mysteries are tinged with luminescence, while Huntington’s tend toward velvety darkness. In both cases, however, the mysteries are somewhat predictable.

––Carter Ratcliff