thomas nozkowski

i went to see the show “recent (made in the course of the last three years) paintings” at pace yesterday.

i’ve known his work for years and probably would have missed the show (it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your day-to-day) had andrea higgins not asked me to see it. it’s a relief to look at work by someone who’s been practicing for more than 30 years and remained true to a vision. and while i don’t have any personal knowledge about his market, the work is clearly well outside anything that has been en vogue for a long time, so i’d guess that his sales have been to a relatively small group of “connoisseurs.” in other words, for years he’s been making paintings to please himself, not a market. admirable.

a lot is being made of the “modest” scale of the paintings – about 22×30 inches. “could this mark a shift away from large abstract painting?!” people are always looking for trends. i guess it’s human nature. like when people look for recognizable imagery in clouds or need to see representation in abstraction. they need to find order to feel in control. not very interesting, but it fills space in newspapers and gives curators something to talk about and hang shows around. let’s put it this way, a lot of really good artists have been making work at this scale or smaller in the last 58 years. the scale of these paintings isn’t revolutionary.

there are a bunch of paintings in this show. more than 30, maybe 40. they are sensuous and intimate. he’s a man who understands his medium and knows how to make it do what he wants. at the same time you feel he delights in “happy accident” — there’s something organic going on in them. most appealingly, they feel like they have been painted with sincerity. even reverence.

all of that said, they don’t feel groundbreaking. they’re nostalgic — and not in a good way — they’re without freshness. they’re kind of abstract and kind of figurative and kind of symbolist and kind of about landscape. there’s a bit of late johns and a bit of miro and gustan and about twenty other people. and it doesn’t add up to anything that makes you think or feel any differently about anything…

so as much as i really wanted to love this work, particularly after andrea’s prodding, i just didn’t. it’s like richard tuttle for me. everything about it is what interests me – process, honesty of material, personal vision, serious artistic practice, trend-bucking, devotion to beauty, attention to craft, poetry, quirkiness – and yet i’m left unmoved. they failed to bewitch me.

which is the difficulty of work like this. when you make something shocking or flashy or spectacular, there’s no expectation for transcendence. the work is what it is – a one-liner. nozkowski’s reputation is that of a painters’ painter — an insider’s artist. with this show at pace, he’s being shamanized. these are mature, thoughtful paintings. they are, disappointingly, not magical.

“recent paintings” is up through 3 may 2008. all images are courtesy of pacewildenstein gallery. i reproduced the ones i like best, not a full range of the work and certainly not the ones i liked least.

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