New York

Gregory Amenoff

Hirschl & Adler Galleries

Even though Gregory Amenoff apparently still believes in content, he is one of the best painters around. The content—weirdly involuted, abstract forms that resemble microorganisms—becomes a vehicle for the sultry, turbulent density of Amenoffs painterliness. Like all good painterliness, his is emblematic of an emotional state, in his case one fraught with a tension that seems about to burst its bounds. Indeed, without the containment and control provided by organic shape, Amenoff’s painterliness would be blindly impulsive, a kind of vertiginous swirl of violent energy. His paint seems propelled by an ecstatic urgency. As in the best instinctive painting, there is a sense of ecstatic response to the mystery of nature—a kind of onomatopoeic recapitulation, in painterly terms, of its generative power.

The wish for transcendence through ecstasy is an archaic one, and also the primary motivating factor of so-called expressionism. The point is to work oneself up into a frenzy of painterliness, each gesture synergistically interacting with every other, to create a kind of orgasmic resonance. It is not simply a matter of simulating the sensation of orgasm in paint, or of a general release of libido and aggression, but rather of using them as a kind of fuel to escape the particularity and limits of selfhood. Paradoxically, the paint must be sufficiently driven to suggest release from controlling drives. Nonetheless, release is incomplete in Amenoff’s work: the core of the self affords a sense of autonomy—which is what I think his microorganismic forms symbolize—and remains intact. His microorganisms are vitalized by drive, but they also resist it, that is, maintain the integrity of their form. I am suggesting that Amenoff’s painting is an allegorical psychodrama, “describing” the inner conflict between integrity and instinct that threatens to tear every self apart. Ecstasy and excruciating tension blend imperceptibly in energy struggling to shape itself even as it erupts.

The point is made clear by the Blakean allusion of Panther Burn, 1992. A pyrotechnic loop with rays emanating from it and an intricate constellation of “stars” within it (the whole implying the fusion of macro- and microcosm) suggest the visionary brightness of Blake’s mysterious panther, a symbol of instinct at its most intense. (It is worth noting that a panther replaces Franz Kafka’s hunger artist after his death: the crowd prefers the vital animal to the life-denying ascetic.) Blake’s creature is instinct at its purest, that is, spontaneously creative instinct. In a sense, Amenoff’s paintings are about the ecstasy of creativity, articulated as the emergence of elementary natural form from elemental formlessness. It is refreshing to see the ahistorical view of creativity as a natural, instinctive process in action, especially when much of today’s art seems to be the result of preprogrammed strategies rooted in a simplistic reading of art and social history intended to legislate them.

Donald Kuspit