Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pour, Drip, Splash, and The Things We Know You For

I was flipping through Art in America and was struck dumb by an ad for Larry Poons' "Throw, Pour, Drip, Spill, and Splash Paintings: 1977-1980"show at the Jacobson Howard Gallery (See the review and slideshow at New York Magazine)

He's one of those guys that I know as a geometric abstractionist from the 60's, a guy that would fill a vast monchrome canvas with a somewhat logical array of identical dots, quivering and humming in optical contrasts to the background (and, with some interpretaive license taken, in the turbulent times in which they were crafted) and here was this luminous cascading waterfall of silver and candy clolors. The tense control I associated with him seemed to give way to cheery abandon. I thought at first it was a new painting by Cy Twombly, whose haphazard scribbling style gradually turned into graceful quasi-landscapes like this. Poons made his mark by making dots, and it seems a betrayal of the Thing We Know You For to move in this direction.

Consider, though, he did that pink painting in the 60's and the waterfall in 1975 and has moved on to even more floral terrain in his most recent work. Over the course of 40 some-odd years, a guy should change things up, evolve and yet we cling to The Thing. If I was trying to explain who Larry Poons is to you, I wouldn't say they guy that's gradually taken his work through lyrical progressions, I'd say "the dot guy from the 60's" just as if someone was asking who Paul McCartney was, I wouldn't start with Wings or 20 years of dopey solo records.

When considering an artist, its an important thing to resist The Thing, if that artist is (arguably) fortunate enough to have one, to consider the work at hand. Plenty of people coast on the momentum of great art crafted long ago, with the current work often seen through the rose-colored glasses of the former. And, why shouldn't they? Should they continue what they are doing even though it lies off the path they previously beat? Shouldn't an artist reap the spoils of success and do whatever the hell they want? Shouldn't they do that regardless of success? Of course they should. The onus is on us to judge the current work on it's own merits, and not on the scrapbook of memories of what came before it. Only then are we really talking about art and not our corny forced nostalgia about it.

That said, what is up with Cy Twombly's recent work? The down side of leaving my critical backpack at the desk is wanting some more epic-scale, cosmological, ecstatic scribbling about the Punic wars and Rilke and discovering that he's all about fluffy clouds now.


  1. Hi there, I really enjoyed your blog, and especially this post. Does that pink painting remind you of a Ross Bleckner?

  2. totally - I would guess that Bleckner was influenced by Poons' sense of form (B came to prominence in the 80s, right?), but instead took a more organic amoebas/star field/blossoms in the wind tack for his subject matter.

    Thanks for mentioning it! I haven't looked at Ross Bleckner in years and a google image search reveals a wider range of work than I thought was there.

    His new work is all about the Pat Stier.

  3. Larry Poons' new work, not Ross Bleckner's...

  4. I did a google search on 'larry poons' and landed here...and you seem like a person that might enjoy a challenging inquiry; so, I have a question. (...such is the randomness of the internet.)
    I vaguely remember (I'm 57!) seeing an article from the early 70's or at least a picture of a Poons canvas in progress. What I thought I remembered was that he used a 'personal mathematics' to lay out all the locations of the dots and the whole understructure of his paintings was a kind of palimpsest of this complicated act of arranging. Do you know anything about this or could you direct me in a path where I might find this out?

  5. My copy of it is long-loaned-out so I can't confirm, but I think there was something about that in the essay on Poons in Michael Auping's "Abstraction Geometry Painting: Geometric Abstract painting since 1945"

    I would guess there is an obscured logic to the placement of those dots, for they seem too natural in their array, with a more solid logic to it than emotional choices would render.

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