New York

Norman Lundin

Stephen Haller Gallery

Norman Lundin paints interior scenes in muted shades of gray, recording patterns of light and shadow in a soft-focus realism. Certain of his interiors, with their cracked plaster walls and barren surfaces, convey the narrative pathos of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, but for the most part Lundin manages to create works that are solemn and austere without being maudlin. He combines doorframes and floorboards, a plain wooden table and a folding metal chair, old sketches and empty jars in compositions of studied stillness.

Despite the seeming verisimilitude of these paintings, Lundin does not paint from life. The simple scenes are pretexts for the artist’s main concern: composition. Architecture, furniture, and objects are mere props in what are essentially studies of abstract form. In Blank Canvases and Chair (all works 1988), angled sunlight casts a Mondrianesque grid onto the surfaces of two canvases, which appear propped against the wall, and onto the wall itself; the floorboards create a pattern of stripes paralleling this grid. The powerful thrust of the shadows and floorboards is counterbalanced by the strategic placement of a dark gray chair and lamp—a pairing that draws the eye diagonally up and across the composition. Studio Still-Life: Three Jars is a more static, frontal composition with three identical jars carefully arranged on a long table. The irregular rhythm of the jars is complemented by the darkened folds of the tablecloth (which themselves create a series of parallel bands) and by the strong verticals of the doorframes at both edges of the canvas. None of these rhythms quite coincide, and the subtle misalignment of elements brings life to what is otherwise an unpromising formal proposition: a single, simple object (the table) nearly centered on the canvas.

Lundin seems to enjoy flouting conventional rules of composition and then trying to make these false starts work as paintings. Studio: Package and a Drawing is dominated by the image of a large canvas wrapped in brown paper. This monolithic form is crosshatched by Lundin’s recurring angled grid of sunlight, which draws emphasis away from the artless central positioning of the main element. In the extreme foreground, the slender edge of a table is all but cut off from view; only its dimensions (approximately the length of the painted canvas) and color (close to that of the back wall) integrate it into the composition as a whole. In some works, Lundin boldly introduces a single spot of vibrant color—the bright orange lid of a jar in Studio Interior: Jar, Lamp & Drawing, for instance— in what are otherwise bloodless, practically monochromatic compositions, and somehow gets away with it.

Several of the works include looped ovals in rectangular frames inscribed on what appear to be chalkboards or walls—abstract studies of shape and proportion that perhaps reveal the kind of measuring and adjusting required to produce Lundin’s final configurations. The numbers traced on these sketches correspond to the artist’s age, and as such also read as a plotting of life and creation, a cryptic autobiography in geometric form. Even Lundin’s seemingly neutral interiors are self-reflexive and hence autobiographical, including as they do renderings of his earlier paintings and sketches. Lundin seems to be inventing pristine, imaginary spaces in which to contemplate his past creations, often viewed in the angled light of the sinking sun.

Lois E. Nesbitt