New York

Jonathan Santlofer

Graham Modern

Since the early ’80s, Jonathan Santlofer has used abstraction’s objective face to uncover its hidden subjective side. So dynamic was his approach to color and form that the shaped relief canvases of a few years ago were notable for aggressive appearances that made them seem to explode off the wall. While the approach discernible in the present body of work is still decidedly dynamic in tone, the results obtained in these paintings are wondrously lyrical, tending toward marvelous dramatic statements. A number of the paintings on view, such as Sleepwalker, The Sienna Waltz, Scenes of Heroism, and This Is the New World, all 1986, represent the almost perfect marriage of form and feeling possible in abstraction.

Santlofer’s paintings encourage their audience not so much to see them in the usual perceptual terms but rather to experience them in a psychic sense. One beholds these paintings, and although the verb “behold” seems to have disappeared from the contemporary art world’s vocabulary, it nevertheless deserves a spot in the current esthetic discourse on abstraction. One of the main aspirations of much ’80s abstract art is to go beyond the limits once imposed by purely formal considerations. “Behold” is a word that aptly describes the nature of the response that occurs when abstract art, whether painting or sculpture, becomes something more than what meets the eye.

What happens instead with such paintings is that they do not so much meet as greet the eye like some unexpected surprise. Sleepwalker serves to demonstrate this response. This painting, like the others mentioned above, comes upon the audience, making itself known to us in the fashion of revelation. A swirling form reminiscent of a figure six closing in upon its own configuration dominates the painting’s diamond shape, with its multilayered imagery consisting of fragments of colored planes and cyclonic lines that seem in a perpetual state of disclosure, reaping a pictorial whirlwind with keen expressive benefits. Vivid sensations of movement (again), line, plane, and color abound throughout. But the image never dissolves, never rushes away. A heightened state of animation is achieved; the energy reaches out, enfolding us. The feeling aspect of ourselves is touched and activated as the painted object shows itself capable of containing in its complex space our deepest notions concerning the journey through the unconscious.

Ronny Cohen