New York

Larry Brown

Carlo Lamagna Gallery

Never in the history of art has painting meant more things to more people, with no clear consensus about the means to be used or the ends worth achieving. Such pluralism has contributed to painting's basically healthy state in the late 1980s. The current popular approaches cover a wide range of formal and thematic practices, from the revival of various academic and Modernist styles to an ironic strategy of simulation. This variety of options includes Larry Brown's deeply affirmative approach to painting, based on his belief in the medium as a means of miraculous communication.

Brown's recent show was one of the strongest so far in New York this season. Featured were a group of six new paintings made of rectangular wooden panels of different sizes and shapes joined together to form multipartite pictorial reliefs. The surfaces of these psychically imposing structures have been painted with colorful, highly textured backgrounds overlaid with various ideographic images. Each painting conveys its ambiguous, speculative content in sections, panel by panel. However, the tendency to read these sequentially quickly yields to the desire to let the associations produced by the imagery simply wash over one.

The three main panels of Firewater, 1987, each contain references to some fundamental aspect of nature. The principle of contrast is evoked by the red and black passages in the panel on the left, an idea developed in the rest of the work in terms of the forces of light and darkness. Brown's ideographic images, such as the tree branch in the middle panel and the narrow, vertical lozenge shapes in all three panels, suggest the inherent mystery of nature. The overall effect borders on the transcendental.

In the middle panel of the triptych Understanding Anthropology, 1987, Brown seems to allude to the determination of the form of all matter by its internal structure, one of the essential organizing principles of the universe. Here again the slitlike lozenge shapes function as signs of life, animated entities set in motion by the energy unleashed by another of Brown's favorite motifs, the spiral. The thick yellow bands surrounding two of the lozenges are like halos or auras and bring out the spiritual overtones of Brown's vision.

Ronny Cohen