New York

Chuck Connelly

Chuck Connelly is attempting to forge a distinctly contemporary art from early-20th-century American painting. His method can be characterized as conservative in the best sense: he is trying to discover what is savable and therefore usable. Consequently, he is pragmatic rather than programmatic in his relationship with the past. Instead of limiting himself to the work of an early abstractionist (such as the younger generation’s current darling, Arthur Dove), Connelly tries to find ways to make use of Synchronist, Precisionist, and Regionalist art, as well as of the “machine paintings” of, say, Morton Livingston Scharnberg. The rough painterliness of Marsden Hartley and proto-Modernist Albert Pinkham Ryder has also been an important influence.

Each of these sources is used by Connelly as a means to structure his paintings. His compositions, which vary widely in subject and scale, include close-ups of children’s toys that accentuate their patterns and geometry; an angled glimpse of a man chasing a woman through a moonlit forest, and an aerial view of a battle being waged by animated war toys from various past and future epochs. Both the subjects and the paint handling (impasto surfaces and broad areas of color) suggest that Connelly’s approach to painting is that of a highly sophisticated naïf: the world he depicts is simultaneously innocent and sinister, comic and creepy. Moral judgments and overt messages are not this artist’s primary concerns.

This approach achieves its most resonant power in The Plague, 1985, in which a dark cloud winds across a rural landscape toward an isolated church. Connelly has chosen to depict the moment before the cloud will envelop the church, employing the long view to create a sense of detachment. It is an image that is mythical, storybook fare, ominous: our fear of the future, presented with a dream like clarity Here, as in two or three other paintings in the exhibition, Connelly’s conceptual attitude is perfectly welded to his painterly means.

John Yau