Friday, November 8, 2013

Dewitt Cheng | art ltd. | Review

Beneath Krakatoa
One of a kind hand-painted book, methyl cellulose paste and acrylic on Stonehenge paper19" x 13"
Photo: Vivienne Flesher, courtesy Jack Fischer Gallery

Ward Schumaker: "Years of Pretty" at Jack Fischer Gallery
by dewitt cheng
Nov 2013

Recurrent reports of the death of painting are greatly exaggerated, of course, as are related rumors about the death of the individual and the death of art in the hurry-hurry postmodern age. Ward Schumaker's generous display of painterly bravura at the newly relocated Jack Fischer Gallery makes the case for subjectivity and colored mud yet again. Schumaker's work clearly derives from modernist precedents--savory Abstract Expressionism foremost, with notes of Minimalism and Conceptualism--but his synthesis is personal rather than programmatic or theoretical. Viewers of Schumaker's solo show last year at Dominican University in San Anselmo recognized a powerful new talent. (Well, yes and no. Schumaker is an illustrator of some eminence and versatility, which makes his fine-art "personal work" even more remarkable.) "Years of Pretty," a large show of work from the last decade, stunningly confirms that impression, managing to avoid the twin traps of conventional prettiness and conventional iconoclasm. One critic discerned in Schumaker's poetic conflation of words and image "the best of" Guston, Kiefer, Twombly and Winters. One might add, perhaps, to that roster of unsavory characters, Basquiat, Miro and Tapies, with the reticent, intellectual Johns, the virtuoso of encoded emotions and gorgeous surfaces, Schumaker's closest ancestor figure, to my eye.

One illustration on the artist's website reproduces Gertrude Stein's paradoxical praise of tradition as the means to freedom. "Years of Pretty" features five bodies of work that have been executed in traditional materials: medium-format mixed-media paintings on paper mounted on wood; acrylics on canvas; small collages on paper; small, idiosyncratic painted wooden sculptures derived from Minimalism and hard-edge abstraction that suggest mockups of houses or furniture; and six, bound, 64-page volumes of 20-by-13-inch paintings, opulently imaginative, and not to be missed. With their teasingly cryptic titles (The Alps, The Niger, Saskatchewan, Shostakovich, Veut Dire, Beneath Krakatoa) and texts, the works demand analysis far beyond the scope of this space that is sure to be forthcoming. With two highly regarded recent shows, this has been Schumaker's well-deserved year of plenty.

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