New York

Kevin Sinnott

Bernard Jacobson Gallery | New York

While the technological imperative has become increasingly tarnished, the old imperative of human expressivity seems to have been going through a revival of sorts in recent years. One can understand Kevin Sinnott’s pictures as part of that revival. One of their distinctions is that they focus expressivity not through the single figure, whose physiognomy is exploited to often grotesque effect, but rather through the tension in human relationships. This tension is made palpable not simply through intense glance and gesture (although that is half-satirically evident in Fame, 1986), but through the spatial relationships between the figures, as in Two Figures on the Bench, 1986. Rarely in recent years has the ambivalenceattraction/repulsion—of human relationships been articulated so forcefully yet subtly. Even when Sinnott depicts violence, as in Sea Battle, 1984, the staging of the closeness/distance between the figures seems more of the essence of their struggle than the violent action itself. It is as though the figures are engaged in violence in order to distance themselves emotionally from one another, and the violence confirms the unconscious—incestuous—intimacy they want to deny. It is this intimacy that is allegorized in Sinnott’s work.

Sinnott’s handling is equally ambivalent, vacillating between the vulgar and refined, but it is a purposeful ambivalence. The vulgar touch that acknowledges the real demands a refined background, to make its acknowledgment emphatic, trustworthy. Sinnott tends to use an abstract background to make the touches that articulate the figure all the more concrete. The figure becomes truly “real” only when the reality that surrounds it recedes or flattens, partly because attention is concentrated on the detail, “realizing” its particularity so thoroughly as to make it seem a dynamically complete cosmos in itself. Such realization is responsible for expressive effect. This is perhaps most evident in Sitting at the Beach, 1985, where the sand’s smooth yellow and the beach-chair’s stripes signify the neutral zone (repressed expressivity?) against which the figure becomes “really” concrete by virtue of its comparatively uninhibited expressivity.

This raises another question, which, as might be expected, Sinnott answers equivocally: What is the relationship between the expressive power of the language of art and the concreteness of the world? Sinnott suggests that art must try to assimilate the concreteness that is not art (even if the result is always pantomime), if the art is to have genuine power, including staying power. The carrying power of art’s concreteness is trivial compared to that of reality, however authoritative a particular art’s conventions. Sinnott suggests that art borrows the authority of the real– the prelinguistic, the irreducibly concrete–through impulsive, violent touch, pushing the image to the verge of incoherence. It is the urgency of this seemingly inartistic, blindly passionate touch that makes Sinnott’s pictures so effectively realistic, so convincing in their articulation of the strangeness of the concrete. They trample all lovable parlor realism.

Donald Kuspit