New York

Harvey Quaytman

David McKee Gallery

Harvey Quaytman’s paintings are very curious. He showed a whole suite of them, every one of which seemed to me exactly the same in shape and structure. Normally this would not be unusual, except that the shape and structure repeated was so unusual. The paintings were a conglomeration of small, irregular shapes near the floor with one very long and narrow section which jutted upward almost out of view. Of the smaller shapes, only one had a generally nameable look: it was placed on the far right of the long narrow member, and had an arched upper right-hand side. The question one asks about this odd combination of dissociated shapes is: as a unit, does it carry specific reference (skyscraper, phallus, etc.), is it meant to be only generally allusive (architectural, sexual, etc.), can it be read as a bundle of art historical moments (deco, late-’60s shaped canvas), or all these things, or some combination of them, etc.? By the very repetition, one first thinks that they form nothing but empty vessels to carry sets of color. Especially since the color in no way affects the insistently autonomous shape, we cannot say that anything but that color defines each painting. If the shape is just “given,” it is a pretty strange thing to be “given.”

There is considerable interest in what happens on the surface, apart from the shape that supports it. The very application of the paint is a little unsettling: for instance, in one painting, the long, narrow shape has an ultramarine blue edge and a spotted, olive green interior. Both are of equal “thickness,” yet the blue has been scraped off the surface leaving a lot of roughly textured duck, while the green appears to have depth toward the wall even though it is smooth and level with the blue, as if there were a trough in the center. In this green there are small pieces of dry paint, leaving small pockmarks in their tracks as the paint was (apparently) scraped flat. I thought the arched shape near the base was made sensible with the process of its covering coinciding with its shape—the paint was moved in a windshield-wiper motion from one corner, setting it into counterpoint with the major thrust of the painting. The directional play added variety, but I am not sure what else it did (especially considering that the “wiper” motive has a history with a highly definite meaning).

The obvious and the straightforward thus do not coincide. The obvious does not ward off the indeterminate. Quaytman uses very thick stretchers, which signal little more than “this painting is an object.” But even this most physical characteristic may be dispensed with: I find myself drawn toward a painting on paper which was propped up against a column in the gallery. It made apparent that the specific shape and the objectness were hardly the point; that what mattered was the gestural scraping and directional flow. The thick stretchers, the bizarre shape, the large scale—none of these added significance other than ambiguous metaphorical implications. Attractive as the drawing was, it left one with the traces of process and, not so incidentally, a very empty feeling.

Jeff Perrone