New York

Hubert Schmalix

Holly Solomon Gallery

“Abstract” expressionism can be conceived of as a kind of psychological trompe l’oeil. An erratic range of visual stimuli are converted before one’s eyes into psychic forces. One is deceived into believing one is watching the play of feelings, or, in the case of Hubert Schmalix’s work, their slow, grinding, precarious expression. A certain turgidity helps, suggesting the impenetrable psychic fabric. It is important to generate a sense of this overall fabric and its aggressive motion, whether fast or slow, for out of it various images may materialize as symptoms of the general emotive condition, the tone of the psyche as a whole at the particular moment described. These images should retain something inchoate to suggest their profound embeddedness in the psyche. They should function preconsciously, as stepping stones between unconscious and conscious. The whole effect can be ingratiating if the images turn out after all to be familiar (this is part of one’s disappointment with the mature Adolph Gottlieb); or it can be offensively irritating if they turn out to be too enigmatic. They must be rhetorically judicious, persuading us that they do indeed speak for the depths. They must be subtly oratorical, speaking to crowds in whispers that draw them closer to hear what is being said rather than bore them with a sense of inconsequential mystery. The best symbolist-expressionist type is the Delphic oracle: pictures of this sort must seem to possess a similar riddle, a similar promise of profound understanding. Schmalix, I think, is a master of this rhetoric of enigma.

With romantic titles like Africa and The Tent of Sorrows, Moonshine and In Love, and even the risky Dull Feelings (my favorite), all 1984, Schmalix generates a sense of simmering enigma through “suggestive” and sometimes fairly explicit images. As with John Walker, the images are up front; Schmalix often poses them not even in a shallow space but simultaneous with the turgidly painted surface. This oneness, and the effect of unusual density it gives the works, contributes no small part to their rhetorical success. Thick and heavy, as if the sediment of an involutional process, Schmalix’s pictures have a certain labored lyricism. His expressionism is not as raucous or as high in energy as that of most of the current Germans, but it is far from placid. Again, the secret is in the stimulating color, seemingly on the verge of becoming descriptive yet never quite knowing what to describe—the muddy yellow of Africa seems particularly to be in this condition. And while the shapes are not so definitively those of symbols, as in Walker’s works, they have as much disruptive indeterminacy as his color. The tension between these untranslatable images and the translations carried out by their titles adds to their sense of overburdened, illusory immediacy, which is crucial to our reading of them as psychologically immanent and unmediated. It is as though they have come, however slowly, out of the blue. They are suddenly in front of us, although we were already watching them out of the corner of our eye when they were incoherent in the distance. That is the way the illusion of the depths turned inside out should appear, like a strange natural growth of which we have just become aware, and which threatens to break down the distance between us and the depths.

Donald Kuspit