New York

Howard Buchwald

For more than a decade, and largely unacknowledged as a pioneer, Howard Buchwald developed a painterly approach that simultaneously examined the Renaissance and Modernist notions of illusionism and literalism. Derived from the discursive paradigms that each of these periods codified in order to look at and discuss art, Buchwald’s examinations arose out of a carefully defined two-step process. In the first, the artist decided upon the paintings shape and then carefully plotted out and made a series of linear cuts, demarcated curving bands that would remain unpainted, and drilled angled holes into the linen surface and wooden backing. These interruptions in the surface underscored the Renaissance belief that a painting was a window to be looked into and through. It was only after these decisions were made that the artist began to paint. Typically, the surface ranged from dense monochromatic fields to overlapping bands of color. The approach was a straightforward visual demonstration. Buchwald’s paintings from this period not only anticipated Frank Stella’s recent work but did so with traditional means. More important, the artist transformed abstract painting into an introspective examination of its critical foundations.

Although Buchwald’s recent paintings continue to depend on his two-step process, the results are very different. Whereas the earlier work focused on the ideal ways we see a painting, the latest work, which is far more lyrical than anything he has previously done, can be said to examine the tangled roots of feelings without coming to a specific conclusion. In doing so, they go far beyond the earlier work, which deconstructed perceptual models. Clearly, Buchwald no longer finds it necessary to limit his deconstructive practice to historical models, as he has absorbed his critical self-conscious mode to such a degree that a celebratory expansiveness is now possible. In Stil Fragen (Questions of style, 1986), the cuts take the form of looping arabesques. The interplay between these cuts and the loosely painted bands of primary colors is both expressive and open-ended. The dripping bands echo the meandering cuts, and vice versa. At the same time, the painting seems far more improvised than before, while color operates in a very different manner, no longer a simple graphic juxtaposition of darks and lights. In Venetian Blind, 1987, for example, Buchwald uses a bright, Mediterranean palette.The pun of the title refers both to the work’s runny striations of paint and to the art world’s frequent blindness to history. Buchwald has turned his formal approach inside out, thus opening up a whole new territory for himself.

This exhibition brought home Buchwald’s magnitude as an artist. His work is both mysterious and confident, bold and questioning. He understands painting to be an artifice; however, the subject is no longer just painting itself.

John Yau