New York

Katherine Bowling

Blumhelman Gallery

More tricky painting. It’s quite good if one likes tricks, and I do, because they seem to be (almost) all that’s left of painting. Out of a wonderful mesh of gestures Katherine Bowling builds a nest and lays her egglike flowers in them. The pseudonaturalness of the surrounding broad, green brushstrokes (slightly ominous in their darkness) supports the flurry of thinner, drippier black and white marks that, like a final act of magic, generate the nest’s aura. The painting is now more deliberate than spontaneous, in line with the Caesarian birth of the image. It is as though Bowling’s paintings are a labor of love in which a sacred heart is cut out of the matrix of gestures.

What is left of painting is a blur of art-artifice-archness-artiness. Another boundary has collapsed, not only between avant-garde and kitsch, the pure and the narrative, the abstract and the pictorial, but between the archaic and the anecdotal. This is because all the techniques have melded: spontaneous painterliness and coolly calculated line, free form and composition. Painting has become a Whitmanesque jumble of methods and aristocratic cynicism: ironic and dandyish, but also freewheeling and compulsive. The result is some kind of glory and transcendence, but also a peculiarly self-deprecating, hesitant quality. Bowling’s works may or may not be superior kitsch, but at least they aren’t coy, even though they’re clever and, perhaps inadvertently, ironic.

Her works pay a certain homage to painting itself—painting celebrating its own fluidity (taken together, her paintings are a remarkable tour de force of gesturalism)—along with a certain hopefulness, a sense that a meaningful mirage will emerge from the sheer rush of the paint. This is what gives them a certain durable interest. I have always thought that in abstraction mysticism went underground, but Bowling’s intense paintings, for all their post-Modern trickery, keep alive the mystic impulse—the impulse to merge with what is larger than oneself yet can be found there. For this, I value them; her secularization of abstraction keeps its flame from flickering out.

Donald Kuspit