New York

David Chow

Amy Lipton Gallery

David Chow’s large, gestural paintings of flowers are neither spin-offs of New Image painting nor are they merely belated nods to the romantic landscape tradition. This is not to suggest that Chow’s work is wholly without precedent, but, rather, that he doesn’t seem to be stymied by looking over his shoulder at the immediate past. In fact, Chow extends both the tradition of painterly expressionism ( particularly the abstract landscapes of Joan Mitchell) and that of classical Chinese painting and calligraphy (he has been studying with a contemporary master for a number of years).

The range of painterly approaches Chow utilizes suggests that he is in no immediate danger of producing rote and mannered images. There is a freshness to the work—a sense that the artist begins each painting without knowing where he will end up. In Untitled (Cockscomb), 1990, a thick, meandering red line functions as both a self-contained act (drawing) and a referential image (the flower). In the triptych Untitled Early Spring, 1991, blotches of paint that are alternately transparent and opaque evoke both a close-up view of a landscape blanketed with white blossoms and a constantly shifting abstract field.

Chow uses abstraction to explore the gap between the fixed aspects of his medium and his metamorphosing subject matter. While at best, a painting can provide the illusion of a flower’s metamorphosis—its brief bloom and decay—by repeating an image with various handlings, Chow is able to fix an image of this unstable process. He uses the flower as a support, as a way of discovering what he can do with paint; indeed, a reverence for nature and a brash approach to the art of painting inform his work in equal measure. What leavens his bravura and makes this work more than just a demonstration of painterliness is Chow’s recognition of transience and mortality.

Chow’s work suggests a familiarity with the philosophical underpinnings of classical Chinese art, yet, unlike the paintings of the older artist Zao Wou-Ki, Chow’s work never becomes precious or fussy. The boldness of his painterly approach, combined with the constraints provided by his subject matter, enable him to depict the world as simultaneously fleeting and solid, evanescent and insistent.

John Yau