New York

“Drawings & Paintings On Paper”

Ann Ina Nosei Gallery

What do David Deutsch’s landscape drawings and Mimmo Paladino’s still lifes have in common? And what do Mike Glier’s political symbols have to do with either one of them? Not much, I’m afraid, except that they’re all on paper; that was apparently the criterion used to select the work in the unpresumptuously-titled group show, “Drawings & Paintings on Paper.”

Well, perhaps there was another connection; most of the works do contain representational imagery, which may be another reason for their being shown together. Imagism—ah, yes. But the images—from Jack Barth’s Gothic charcoal-and-ink scenes, to Troy Brauntuch’s photographic-looking white-chalk drawings on black paper and Francesco Clemente’s tiny nude figures—have little or nothing in common.

This collection of 18 artists’ work was so disparate and uneven that it succeeded in categorically denying the notion of a collective new “imagism”—at least for these artists. The show defeated the attempt to herald the term (or its variations) with a capital “I,” or to cash in upon the current international phenomenon—as if the trend were that simple. These artists are experimenting with very tentative ideas about image, each one for very different reasons and to very specific ends.

Still, the work can be loosely divided into Italian and American camps (something the gallery did implicitly, by placing much of each group of work in different rooms). But the drawings and paintings of Paladino, Clemente, Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi and Ernesto Tatafiore can be grouped together only because of their shared lyricism, fluidity, colorfulness and wit. (Louisa Chase’s heavily stylized images could also fit here on the basis of their color—though not of wit.)

Paladino’s Still-Life, a gouache on handmade paper, contains one side of a masklike face with its eye closed, juxtaposed with a Matisse-like cup outlined against a blue splotch of paint. Its image is expressionistic and simple, but graphically it is one of the most pleasing works in the show. Clemente’s three-part pastel drawing, In Piedi, on the other hand, is as self-sufficient, but tightly-drawn, and loaded with symbolism. In all three of his individually-framed drawings, carefully outlined forms are placed around three slightly different pedestals, on which a tiny naked figure strikes an athletic pose. Across the three parts, broken by the individual frames, is the phrase, “Here error is all in the not done,” written as if it were carved in stone. Clemente’s cryptography of word and image is in concept, far removed from the cartoon-like figures in Tatafiore’s From the Life of Robespierre, but both are closer to one another than to the eerie drawings of Troy Brauntuch, which are as difficult to read as photographic negatives. One of Brauntuch’s pictures contains a sculpted-looking hand rising out of what seems to be battle rubble. The picture is precisely drawn, and so highly stylized that image is subjugated to style. David Deutsch also emphasizes style in an untitled ink-on-paper landscape in which sky, trees and land (or water?) swell with the turbulent sweeping strokes of a romantic Turner landscape. Jack Barth’s murky, brownish landscape, in which a Gothic-looking church steeple looms in the background, is equally as mannered. These last three belong to the American camp, but what does their stylized imagery have to do with Tom Wudl’s squiggle, Julian Schnabel’s blob of gold paint or Eric Fischl’s child-like nude draped across a ladder?

As a group, the American drawings interpret the purpose and meaning of “image” so broadly that, for the most part, they are without even a hint of a coherent vocabulary. Not that I am looking for Pop flags, but the landscapes and abstractions in the American group seem purposely a-cultural. The most startling exception to this is Mike Glier’s powerfully-drawn black-and-white, Pop-ish images, rendered almost with the campy feeling of a World War II poster. They are political because of their use of culturally-cliched imagery. In one, the heavily-shadowed faces of Mount Rushmore gaze above and beyond three well-scrubbed schoolboys. Dressed in ties, white shirts and jackets, they look furtively off to the side of the picture at a hand directing them to the immobile faces of the mountain. In another, the smiling lower half of a face that resembles Ronald Reagan’s gleams from under a miniature United States Capitol dome tilted to the side like an oversized hat. Glier’s direct mockery of the new conservatism stuck out like a sore thumb in this context. But just as David Deutsch and Troy Brauntuch chose style over image, Mike Glier chose image over style.

The total effect of this show was, finally, like having to listen to many different dialects being spoken at once—the noise is mere cacophony if you can’t isolate the sounds.

Joan Casademont