New York

Jack Chevalier

Pam Adler Gallery

Much of the mainstream art of the ’60s, from the stained canvases of Morris Louis on, was flat. Those works and the critical thought surrounding them preached the pure virtues of flatness as the key to the distinctive nature of painting and sculpture. It took the pluralistic ’70s to shake out the reductive, doctrinaire, contained approach to art represented by ’60s abstraction, in particular of the minimalist persuasion; concomitantly, the ’70s paved the way for the current expansive approach to art represented on one level by the return of the relief.

Relief is to the ’80s what flatness was to the ’60s: one of the dominant esthetic qualities of the time. Here I apply the term to the broad category of three-dimensional work that projects from the wall, falling between painting and sculpture. A few seasons ago it seemed to be everywhere, and that it continues to be a major contributor to today’s sensibility is aptly demonstrated in the recent work of Jack Chevalier.

In the late ’70s Chevalier began making wall pieces whose symmetrical structures bring to mind archetypal houses. Made of painted rice paper stretched over balsa-wood frames and often decorated with beads, these works impress as ritualistic objects, a quality retained in the recent show. Here Chevalier had cut irregular pieces of mahogany and fir, both straight and curved, and fitted them together dovetail style into rectangular surfaces which were then carved in low relief and painted over in acrylic and alkyd, an oil pigment. The resulting relief object is also a relief picture, and the combined effect of so much “reliefness” is powerful.

The works are animated with grooved interlocking and repetitive patterns featuring not only triangles and ovals but also representational elements—small houses and trees. The compositions suggest aerial views of landscape: in Sleeping Woman, 1983, the undulating curves in the upper section may be interpreted as hills and the swaying pattern of grooves as plowed furrows—or, perhaps, as a woman’s long hair. This appealing openness in the imagery produces an emotive response, and by his deft alternation of values and his expressive use of contrasting tones (red and white, pink and blue, brown and green), Chevalier invests these works with a mesmerizing, finally mythic dimension.

—Jack Chevalier