New York

Frank Lobdell

Oscarsson Hood Gallery

This show directs attention to a paramount issue in art that has received too little critical attention lately. I am talking about spiritual content, which is, admittedly, one of the most elusive aspects of the visual experience to express, either in pictures or words. On both counts, Wassily Kandinsky stands high: over seventy years ago, in his breakthrough pictures of the Munich period and the influential related essay, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” (1912), he demonstrated the esthetic breadth and significance of this issue with visionary fervor and insightful genius.

Among the contemporary artists who continue to explore the exciting, difficult, but ultimately rewarding course pioneered by Kandinsky, Frank Lobdell is among America’s most committed and intriguing. Lobdell studied under Clyfford Still in the late ’40s; since then, his painting has undergone some significant changes. Figuration-derived imagery—stylized silhouettes and fragments of body parts—were cast adrift in the company of lines, circles, and spirals in lyrical and colorful landscapes through the ’60s. In the ’70s, the artist turned away from the figure and toward a metaphysical abstraction. The results of his search for a new pictorial language are represented in this selection of recent paintings and monotypes.

July 1983, 1983, is typical of the bold but meditative imagery of these works, which as a group seek to directly involve the senses and feelings in an iconic dialogue ultimately about the nature of time and existence. This rectangular canvas is reinforced by an off-center black vertical line which runs down to meet a blue horizontal bar located along the lower edge. The painted frame they form encloses a yellow orange surface within which are found two spirals, one, the larger, a brilliant red and the other blue. In front of the large spiral sits a circle in another tone of red. Other small geometric motifs and a group of intersecting wavy lines complete this part of the picture. Owing to Lobdell’s rich and gestural application of pigment, the section reveals its content slowly. The viewer is made aware, say, of the roundness of the circle and gradual shifting in size of the spirals. But the large spiral continues beyond the black vertical into another, smaller, pink plane which also contains a vertical line and small geometric motifs. While July 1983 is a complex balancing act of colors, shapes, and linear and planar tensions, it invites more than just perceptual considerations. Its concrete and physical qualities, the emphatic pictorial reality presented, hold a psychic impact. Lobdell’s recent work provides a fascinating launching pad for personal flights of fancy.

Ronny Cohen