New York

Farrell Brickhouse

Max Protetch

One threat to current painting is that as a result of consciousness-raisers such as Barbara Rose a sheer smallness of conception may triumph. Farrell Brickhouse has chosen an unfortunate time to make his appearance; his problem is not that his idea of what painting can do is flawed, but simply that he would prefer to be Dufy than Picasso. Forced to reach for unfashionable terms such as “panache,” “brio,” "insouciance”—all foreign, you notice—critics run the risk of forgetting to discuss what he is trying to do, and of mistaking his range and approach. Brickhouse himself doesn’t help; his homage to Russian Constructivism and the Fauves has the air of a young musician with a new instrument, testing it excitedly to hear how it sounds, making arbitrary runs and embellishments just for the fun of it.

The worst thing to be said about the paintings is that the idea of internal motifs echoing the shape of the canvas was a brainwave when Stella first thought of it. These days it can be irksome. The best is that behind his devil-may-care, I-just-dashed-it-off-on-the-spur-of-the-moment nonchalance a versatile, craftsmanlike artist can be perceived. Mythology, with Christmassy greens and reds forming a dense undergrowth, repeats its mitred form all over, then seems somehow to forget it, as if that was only a way of getting into the mood. By far the most successful of the large paintings in the show, it demonstrates that what Brickhouse wants of his early modern dappling techniques is a effect of ferment and mystery; his “image” matters far less. Another painting on wood, Fergus, provides a clue. Yeats pictured Fergus alone in his brazen car, piercing “the wood’s deep-woven shade.” Present in Yeats, as in Johns, is the ability to allude, however obliquely, to a sustaining private “world. ” If Brickhouse is envious of this, the way to deepen his references may be through the heavy wall-pieces such as Small Cupola, Lead Time and Pope’s Hat. Lead Time is a humorous, cruciform ornament made from plaited strips of lead, pierced and colored like leather. It is not the work of a flippant or debonair man and is probably the last thing most people notice in the entire gallery, but it suggests that first appearances are not to be trusted in this case and that there may be a completely different Brickhouse struggling to escape.

Stuart Morgan