San Francisco

Dan Connally

Gallery Paule Anglim

At a glance, the six medium-size paintings Dan Connally showed here could be taken as luxuriant, though somewhat private, meditations on the pleasures and pressures of 20th-century style. Some consist of cubistic planar grids, reactivated and jumbled so as to suggest seismic distress. Or, where the grid bursts open in glowing shafts and forward clusters of pigment-as-surface-and-edge, what is recalled is that moment in the ’40s when Abstract Expressionism emitted its earliest hybrids, budding bravely out from under the Euro-Modernist mulch.

Connally’s pictures project a self-conscious, heterodox incipience. They recapitulate the vibrancy of certain favored moments in art history when a new ripeness was ready to spill over—early Cubism, proto-action painting, and even the unfussed form and color associated with the Sienese quattrocento. Thus, their impetus isn’t private or nostalgic at all. Connally is after an objective, ecological root language of painting and the sort of copious statement such a reinvention of first principles can help to deliver.

Each of the paintings declares its own temper: hectic, reckless, hilarious, stately, absurd, or affectionate. Finding his originality in an oblique, improvisatory classicism, Connally multiplies forms hand over fist. This gives the pictorial drama another measure of incipience, making for paintings full of brinks and tangents, close calls between darting and otherwise disjunct elements, and sudden extrusions from minor to major, from baffled middle distance to full-fledged close-up. Among the many strokes in a two-foot-high painting, every stroke counts. The merest swatch of green suggests a wood, and landscape regularly enfolds itself amid still-life accoutrements, on a cue most likely taken from Juan Gris. But then Connally tempers every strain of imagery with an overriding abstract possibility. Squiggly, low-rolling ocean waves in one painting, Untitled 90.VI, 1990, congeal in the next, Untitled 90.VII, 1990, as scalloped architectural trimmings. There are micro/macro conundrums, such as the scattered bulbs, blooms, and starburst shapes in Untitled 89.IV, 1989, which look undersea, garden-variety, and intergalactic, all at once. Complementary symbols—the most persistent being an old-fashioned key and a keyhole—seem fated never to connect. Similarly, in Untitled 89.III, 1989, a pair of jet-black curves that suggest compositional tethering devices twist loose from the matrix and hang suspended like a musical note or monogram.

Connally edits by daubing one thing over or next to another; instead of fracture and congestion, there is a sense of incantatory completion among separately incomplete thoughts. His stray shapes look slapped down without compunction or plan as to how they might fit. Because they do fit, the result is an airy profusion asserted where an all-too-fixed order (the fabled grid again) was once assumed.

Bill Berkson