A Reverence for the Line in 2 Gallery Shows
Larry Rivers and Liz Gribin, currently exhibiting at Southampton’s Clark Fine Arts and the Gayle Willson Gallery, respectively, each exemplify a reverence for a linear approach to the surface of the work that is too often underappreciated and overwhelmed by popular attraction to more bombastic and flashy technique.
Stripping the figures presented to the bare bones of their structure, they echo the lines of John Dryden’s “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham,” when he wrote that “Wit will Shine/ Through the harsh cadence of a rugged/ Line.”
In emphasizing this importance of the linear construction of an object, figure, or scene-whether in Mr. Rivers’s series of drawings from the 1950s and ’60s or Ms. Gribin’s recent acrylic on canvas paintings-both artists present the viewer with an image shorn of the peripheral and unnecessary details that are so often incorporated only to play on trite notions of visual ambiguity.
Instead, they offer images that are concise and wholly literate, spurring a dialogue with the viewer that allows room for both interpretation of negative space and cognizance of familiar imagery.
As artists, they offer physical manifestations of William E. Strunk’s advice to writers in his Elements of Style: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
Beginning his career in the late 1940s as a student at Hans Hoffman’s art school, where abstraction was emphasized over representation, Mr. Rivers felt an affinity for drawing that he believed enabled him to “identify with the ‘history’ of art,” as he wrote in 1979. As he rather archly stated in the same essay, “Methinks I have to draw.”
In this series of works, entitled “Lost Drawings from the 1950s and 1960s,” which were only recently discovered and which have never previously been exhibited, many of the elements of the artist’s signature style and structure are present, but with an intimacy and directness that give them a more meditative feel than one is used to.
While still containing Pop Art’s air of detached whimsy, as in “Vogue Ad” (mixed media, 1968), or the more Dada influenced “One from Forty Feet of Fashion” (mixed media, 1969), the works give the viewer a sense of a more personal relationship between the artist and his subjects, as in “Grace Hartigan” (pencil on paper, 1955) or a portrait of the husband of painter Jane Freilicher, entitled “Joe Hazen” (pencil on paper, 1957).
Of particular note is “Homage for Frank O’Hara Working on Stories” (pencil on paper, 1967) which presents the writer engrossed in his work and seemingly oblivious to the presence of either artist or viewer. In many ways, this drawing exemplifies the ability to offer an abstraction of representational imagery through the presence of recognizable figuration, both balanced by, and seemingly emphasized pictorially by, the visual encroachment of negative space.
Capturing a similar feel, albeit from a more raw and spontaneous approach, is “Jazz Gallery Drawing” (mixed media, 1960) which captures the abstract structure of a moment in jazz music through the twisted contortions of the musicians themselves. Drawn in confident and aggressive strokes, the work has the indefinable sense that a viewer totally unfamiliar with the medium of jazz itself would nevertheless feel the flow and counter-flow of be-bop rhythms in the piece.
Also on exhibit are some of the sculptures created by Mr. Rivers, along with previously exhibited drawings on display in the rear gallery. Of the sculptures, “One Manikin Turned Around Bronze” (1962) is of particular interest for its obvious relationship to the later sculpture, “Mount Rushmore.” And “Friendship Between America and France” (mixed media, 1962) presents a rather inventive manifestation of Pop Art’s use of playfully detached iconography.
The Larry Rivers exhibition of “Lost Drawings from the 1950s and 1960s” continues through August 18 .
Liz Gribin’s work on display at the Gayle Willson Gallery in Southampton illustrates the artist’s dedication both to classical concepts of structure and form as well as more contemporary themes and techniques that, much as in Mr. Rivers’s drawings, create an extremely personal and sensitive tableau. Offering a profoundly delicate yet assertive use of color, the works are oriented and dominated nevertheless by obvious talent as a draughtsman.
Beyond this, the paintings gain their power not just from the presence of a confident hand but from its application in a framework that goes well beyond mere representational imagery. As Helen Harrison wrote, “abstraction can push a familiar scene to the limit of recognizability. Liz Gribin takes similar liberties with the human figure and its surroundings.”
Balancing the coloration of Diebenkorn with Fairfield Porter’s dedication to compositional structure, “Natasha” (acrylic on canvas, 2002) is both thoughtful and mysterious, while “Window Dressing” (acrylic on canvas, 2001) presents an extremely active and painterly still-life wherein the objects exist simultaneously as separate entities and as a united abstract image.
The exhibition at the Gayle Willson Gallery continues through August 27 .