Los Angeles

Thomas Nozkowski

ACE Gallery

THE ART-REVIEW FORMAT tends to encourage nutshell accounts of an artist's output, which shouldn't be so hard in the case of Thomas Nozkowski. If you're at all familiar with his work, you'll recognize his paintings when you see them. They're generally rectangular, consistently rendered in oil on canvas board or linen on panel. They tend to be precise and defined, without fetishizing the straight edge or roll of masking tape; the hand of the artist is apparent, but they don't seem to aspire to the expressionistic; and while associations abound, Nozkowski's paintings fall more into the category of abstraction than representation. As for the palette, well, anything goes. And the paintings included in his latest show at Ace, which date from 1995–99, fall squarely within the tightly defined parameters I've laid out here.

The whole wonderful problem with Nozkowski is that he has managed to make endlessly evocative paintings that suggest constantly shifting references but always find resolution back at the level of abstraction. In Untitled (7-121/LA IV), 1999, I saw oil derricks silhouetted against a sunset backdrop, unfamiliar pictograms in ink on parchment, and an abstracted interior view of a stained-glass window—or maybe it's just a cocktail of Turner, Friedrich, Miró, and Sheeler. In Untitled (7-92), 1997, I found an eye, a cosmology, and a fried egg, not to mention an elegant abstraction. In the moment, Untitled (7-113), 1998, looked like phases of suns and moons over a cratered landscape, and Untitled (7-122), 1999, surely was a tagger's moniker lifted from a subway wall and turned sideways, but in another visit, these paintings could be entirely different. You could go at this kind of free association forever, but you know that it will lead not to some overarching truth but rather to endless flashes of clarity that seem alternately to support, erode, confirm, and cancel one another. Nozkowski has simply done you the favor of limiting the media and formats so you don't go crazy, and you get the sense that he did this for himself as much as for you—that he zeroed in on a deliberately narrow way of working so that on the visual end he could blow things wide open, making all that is visual eligible for consideration.

Art reviews also tend to encourage nutshell descriptions of works, linking quick distillations of images to their titles for future recall. but with Nozkowski's paintings, the effort seems futile. All are titled only by unrememberable code numbers, and the associations that one derives from Nozkowski's abstractions are rooted in memory and familiar images, which as a rule have nothing to do with the artist's own images and memories, to which one likely never could connect. And one doesn't need to. Nozkowski clearly had his fun, now you get to have yours. It's as good for you as it was for him.

Christopher Miles