New York

Terry Winters

Sonnabend Gallery

Terry Winters has, thankfully, killed off those muddy-hued botanical and geometric forms—mute pods and polygons—one is accustomed to finding in his paintings. In much of his new work these shapes seem to have been garishly reincarnated in exploded form: what were rigid polygonal forms and impenetrable pods seem to have burst wide open, exposing the twisted membranes of strange interior landscapes.

Whereas, for some, the earlier work was tiresomely solipsistic—driven by an obsession with the mysteries of dense paint and repetitive drawing—these new paintings, with their aggressively applied, Crayolapure color seem to draw from the work of certain younger abstractionists and are surprisingly fresh.

Winters’ cartoony new works cannily reference other media as much as their own peculiar morphology, manifesting the kind of sticky, stretched forms and confident drawing one might expect to find in comic hooks. Among other things they evoke contorted figures, underwater scenes, and sci-fi landscapes. In one large, very striking painting, stringy, impasto lines attach each plane to the next, deeper one; orange and cadmium in the foreground yields to a web of chrome yellow, then one becomes lost in a tangle of purple, jade, and deep red—glimpsing a blue, cavelike space beyond. There is also a sense, in this painting, of a shifting frame—of movement in all directions.

Like the paintings, the works on paper are both weirdly evocative and gorgeously inelegant. Their loopily divided forms recall mod-’50s decoration or stained glass, contrasting sharply with the opacity of the earlier work. Others conjure up more bizarre associations; one evokes a plushy inner landscape the color of blood marked by veinlike bridges. Another is superbly sci-fi inflected; in the middle hovers a resplendent red, cracked pod, surrounded by what resemble mangled limbs.

These works raise the question, What are we to do with abstract painting that unself-consciously privileges the retinal—maintaining a certain faith in discovery through process—while borrowing the look of more jaded work? Serving as a temporary antidote to such tiresome models as Peter Halley’s ad nauseum recapitulations and Philip Taaffe’s “sacred and inspired moments,” this work is refreshingly free of irritatingly misplaced assumptions about the esthetic as conceptual currency. Winters creates a space similar to the one Moira Dryer created in her work: a space for “big abstract paintings that are not egocentric” and “fully achieved paintings that refer to other work.” These bold yet ultimately ambivalent works may not provoke the kind of unease one feels in front of Dryer’s more resonant, more particular and strange, abstractions, but they do manifest a similar independence of spirit.

Winters’ radical change of position reveals an unexpectedly lush middle ground. One imagines him to have spun a single Technicolor web out of Carroll Dunham’s crass cartoon-excretions and Arshile Gorky’s haunting lyricism to produce these hybrid gems, which are more than a little difficult to place.

K. Marriott Jones