New York

Irving Petlin

Odyssia Gallery

Irving Petlin’s artificts are made with pastel and are unique among the species because of their delicacy and the constant threat of smudging. In this sense, they are like cave paintings which threaten to decompose in your presence. You’re afraid to breathe on them for fear a change of atmosphere would dissolve them.

They also have a pictographic quality because they are allegorical. The allegory of Petlin’s The Drawing Lesson: the artist’s tools are over-scale and too big to wield; chairs are adult-scale, bodies are child-scale; there are no interior spaces—everything is exterior. Nothing’s the right size. Tools and furnishings can’t be used. There’s no inside to run to in escape of this desolation. Everything’s exposed.

A profound sense of dislocation and dreaminess—sometimes it’s hallucination—informs this work. The colors, as Hayden Herrera has remarked, are astringent. Yellow, not the warm yellow of the sun, but the pale yellow of rotten air, predominates as a color. Icy blues, lifeless browns, come in to place and show. He’s a colorist who makes you ache for a red, a warm pink. Warm anything.

Petlin’s work provokes emotional responses that are, in these times, as remote as anthropological artifacts seem to their analyzers. The emotions—what am I doing here, where am I going, how will I get there—are the rhetorical questions of existentialism. These seem vaguely nostalgic vis-à-vis the relative lack of emotion in most work one sees today. Petlin’s stubbornness, his commitment to these haunting questions, his perseverance in this haunted enterprise, freight his work with an intensity of mythic depth and painful breadth.

Carrie Rickey