new-york

Earl Staley

Phyllis Kind Gallery

In the New Museum’s “Bad” Painting catalogue from 1978, Marcia Tucker relates an anecdote concerning a visit that she and others made to Earl Staley’s Houston studio: “When we left the studio, one of the visitors commented that his work ‘needs editing’ in order for one to see and appreciate it.” Wandering through Staley’s recent show, I could sympathize with that anonymous visitor’s reluctance to commit. The selection of work ranged from 1977 to 1981, and while it is definitely of a body (his pointy, jaw-intensive characterizations and hyper-Latin palette are highly distinctive), the focus of attention and concern seems constantly to shift from painting to painting and within individual canvases. The tension that activates Staley’s paintings hinges on an apparent unwillingness to resolve the whole; it is as if he labors toward refinement only for the joy of subverting it.

In Staley’s

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