New York

George Negroponte

John Good Gallery

George Negroponte’s recent paintings are built on a strong, almost architectural structure. Most of these works are slightly vertical, and Negroponte typically divides them in half horizontally, then further divides the top portion with a vertical stripe about a third of the way across. The three roughly rectangular shapes that result are related to one another in their proportions, while at the same time suggesting, in their spiraling progression from the smallest to the largest, both depth and motion. This geometric compositional framework links Negroponte to the mathematical constructions of Minimalism, with its sense of inevitability and immutability, as well as to the raft of current painters who look to Minimalism with nostalgia or distrust.

Negroponte confounds the hypnotic certainty of this kind of composition with his colors—lush clouds of overripe yellows and oranges balanced by patches of cool greens, blues, and violets. This freer color, along with the use of rectangular forms, recalls earlier work by Hans Hofmann and Mark Rothko. But these paintings lack Hofmann’s deep space and physical density of paint as well as the massiveness of Rothko’s hovering clouds of color. Negroponte builds up his forms out of energized brushstrokes, often in a variety of related hues, giving the shapes a coloristic texture and a feeling more of liveliness—or nervousness—than of solidity. In several of the paintings shown here (nearly all from 1986–87 and all but one of them untitled), the forms themselves break up with the variety of the brushstrokes and color within them. As a result, the rectangles are not subsumed in the geometry of the overall composition but assert their independence as arenas for distinct pictorial incidents. Even in the background bands of color that provide the underlying structure for the paintings, which are never very rigidly defined anyway, little zips of color swarm across the surface.

The Turneresque exuberance of Negroponte’s brushstrokes and the lyricism of his color threaten to break through the methodical underpinnings of his compositions, while at the same time his geometric structures rein in the sensuous beauty of his colors and paint handling. This tendency to pursue two different formal directions within the same work is a rich tactic in much current painting, reflecting a time of wary yearning. But Negroponte’s paintings can be seen as landscapes, too, resisting yet a third set of issues. In most of the works here, for example, the upper right rectangle is an atmospheric yellow or orange, suggesting light at particular seasons and times of day—summer afternoons, say. The dividing band between the top and bottom halves of the painting often serves as a horizon, while the bottom half generally has more going on in it, as if it were a foreground.

Negroponte maintains a precarious balance among all of these readings and thus borrows from the strength of each. But, by the same token, there’s an unresolved feeling to the work. Negroponte skillfully articulates an unusually promising set of pictorial and painterly issues, but at this point he seems still to be seeking his own path through them.

Charles Hagen