New York

Reverend William A. Blayney

Phyllis Kind Gallery

The charm of Reverend William A. Blayney’s recent show lay in the contrast between the size of the works (many measure only about a foot square and none approach the scale of much contemporary painting) and their quasi-mythical or religious subject matter—many-headed monsters, saintly knights on horseback, God seated on his throne in heaven. Words and thoughts appear in these pictures as halfdigested ideas or lingering, memorable phrases, the way they do in dreams. You can’t really decide, looking at them, if they’re the work of an exuberant and slightly deranged simpleton, or if Blayney is in fact knowing and coy, playing with image and language to create, as William Blake did, a revolutionary poetic vision from the fusion of text and figure.

In the end, what is remarkable about these works is that they combine a seemingly childlike technique with a sophisticated sensibility most readily apparent in his use of text drawn primarily, if not exclusively, from scripture. The desire to frame his visions, to make them palpable to the viewer is reflected not so much in the narratives these paintings construct (I do not share Blayney’s obsession with the Apocalypse), but, rather, in their ability to communicate a mystery (religious or otherwise). Though this achievement can be traced to his technical mastery, these works are somehow more than the sum of their parts. There is certainly an immediacy to his images, as in the 7 Headed Lion-Beast with 10 Horns, Coming Ashore, 1960, in which the beast grimaces convincingly, though many a monster in a children’s book is as full of animus. The delicately balanced unity of the paintings, evident even in those that most resemble textual billboards (Prophetic and Gospel Ministry, 1980, for example, orchestrates blue, gold, and red into a satisfying pictorial field despite the lack of clarity in the rambling verbal “statement”), also contributes to the sense that here a deliberate, skilled hand is at work. In the end, however, what holds the viewer’s attention is Blayney’s ability to convey the particularity of his vision.

Justin Spring