New York

James McGarrel

Allan Frumkin Gallery

James McGarrell paints with dream logic. Time and space are flexible. Landscapes are stacked in emotional perspective. Symbols are served smorgasbord in these internally mobile feasts, symbols relieved of responsibility by their charm and good looks.

In The Grand Mediterranean, 1982, McGarrell himself appears as a headwaiter (well, it looks like McGarrell) posed invitingly at a buffet table. His upraised tray appears to be gesturing toward two rainbows—one just inside the window, one just outside. Perhaps this is the pot of gold within the pot of gold. Scooting off the plate the artist/headwaiter is raising from the buffet table is a lobster—the unkosher creature Gérard de Nerval kept for a pet because it knows the secrets of the depths. On the raised, rainbow-oriented plate is a fish in the posture of leaping, as if headed for a brief glimpse of a more ethereal realm. Nature seems poised over a trellis ceiling and improved upon in the wallpaper. To one side a young woman is seated at what is either a writing desk or an upright piano. She is topless. The wall in front of her is either a painting of fish or an aquarium, but logic has been doubly suspended because the fish swim over the rainbow’s reflection on the aquarium glass. It’s one of painting’s jobs to play with the laws of nature and it seems to be a job McGarrell relishes.

In Drifting Move and Crossing Move, both 1981–82, McGarrell makes landscapes like quilts or collages, defying geography and perspective but making perfect beauty sense. In Crossing Move McGarrell builds a narrative landscape; a rust-colored train is a wall in a field which ends in orange trees, a field of deep blue.

McGarrell puts flesh back on cubist skeletons in cubist space. In the self-portrait Double Double Espalier, 1982, McGarrell is multipresent, poised at his easel in life-on-canvas and in canvas-on-canvas; the construction reflects a maze of funhouse mirrors. Every corner of these paintings is beautiful, especially the micro-abstractions: wallpaper, fabric patterns, clouds. McGarrell makes perfect paralogical order from what should be riots of color and texture. He presents classical iconography as entertainment, and vice versa. He amuses while inspiring awe. He proves, finally, that in the hands of a master more is really more.

Glenn O’Brien