New York

Elmer Bischoff

Elmer Bischoff makes it seem easy; then you keep looking and he makes it seem very, very hard. These paintings appear casually composed and they are easy to look at, but they are also extremely seductive, and once their simple charm has worked they begin to take on another life.

In the mid ’50s Bischoff stopped making purely abstract paintings and began making representational paintings in which familiar elements seem to be dis- solving into abstraction. These paintings are about the process of abstraction in the word’s senses of drawing away from, epitomizing, reducing to a summary.

In the mid ’70s Bischoff returned to abstraction without representational points of departure, and this is the mode of the pictures in this show. But an aura of representation remains. These works seem the results of the process of abstracting from reality, simply farther down the line. Perhaps it is the auras of figures, objects, and landscapes that Bischoff is painting—auras in motion, in collision, in superimposition and eclipse.

In No. 75, 1983, stacks of irregular parallel lines seem to radiate from objects that have vanished from the frame. They are ghostly but familiar—frozen in motion, transparent but not translucent. All the paintings share a strong cubist sense, but where Cubism exploded over the plane, here there’s that plus the dimension of layer upon layer, like an archaeological dig that uncovers different eras simultaneously. Sometimes the stacks of color and proto-image have an almost totem pole feel, the totem pole stripped bare.

There’s a feeling of the practice of magic here, but there’s no mumbo jumbo. The gorgeous radiance of Bischoff’s color forms has a strange integrity; like the spectrum analyses of various elements when burned, these paintings seem to have specific, integrated, resonant patterns of illumination. They are, perhaps, representation gone to heaven.

Glenn O'Brien