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Unpacking a Thomas Nozkowski painting is akin to reading Beckett, sinking into Raging Bull, or catching a Dylan song. An experience that always leaves you challenged but full of visual riches.
First, the facts. Nozkowski’s working method is simple; a moment encountered, a moment remembered, re-made, re-painted again and again, continually, until that moment of visual equilibrium arrives. For the past 3 decades, he has been making these objects in a similar way, format (mainly 16 x 20 inches, though lately they have grown in size to 22 x 28 and even 30 x 40) and material (oil on canvasboard, now on linen stretched over panel). For all that, the result is seldom the same: a floating chequered blob, a colour bar (albeit with the wrong colours) with spindly legs, a domed sky – marked out with little squares – parted by a crevice, a repeated scrawl crawling across a pinky-purple picture plane, black blobs fencing in a part of the pictured, a soft target, denatured grids, coloured lozenges streaking through an orange sky. Very roughly, the
resultant imagery is an elision of biomorphic and geometric imagery, mutated by a visual-cultural language. His forms were once described as the “vexed silhouette” pinned smack in the middle of the picture, but of late they have moved away from the sole central form into a landscape of
architectural blob-fields. Hence, the final result is more the vexed or pleasantly perplexed viewer.
These descriptions merely scratch at the surface, it does not bring us any closer to an understanding of them. First and foremost, these are paintings; and in a decade past, full of black boxes, ironic painting and installation – all predominately conceptually-based – these paintings
stand for something different. They are not Abstract Expressionist (that is neither large field nor mythic paintings), or iconic non-representational objects, or even ironic in attitude, which makes them unusual – even here in this city. Nozkowski instead, seems to be a one-man painting band, constantly reinventing the world. Are they mere hermetic objects? In a world of their own? Yes and no. They leave you with your own thoughts, hence a hermeticism of sorts; but that is because our theoretical language for abstraction lags behind him. With the wealth of references and a world of silence, words sometimes lack the suppleness required for this visuality.
A contemporary of Richard Tuttle’s, another supple thinker of big things in small ways, Nozkowski also requires a supple mind to feel through his art. “Flat figurations” and “anti-form” are terms thrown at Tuttle, which may also be appropriate nouns to sit close to Nozkowski. The figural or
hectic biomorphism of his paintings, both touch at the body or bodily functions, but also hint at Nature in general. Memory in the guise of form is deformed, then re-formed. Here, perhaps Deleuze and Guattari’s analogy for rhizomatic thinking may be of help: “The Pink Panther imitates nothing, it reproduces nothing, it paints the world its colour, pink on pink; this is its becoming-world, carried out in such a way that it becomes imperceptible itself, asignifying makes its rupture, its own line of flight, follows its ‘aparallel evolutions’ through to the end.” That statement probably sounded better and made more sense in French, but then there’s something estranging in Nozkowski’s thought as well. As experience is translated into grids, blobs, denatured or even “natured” geometry, colour – which incidentally Nozkowski says he “abuses” -, for us the viewer, the confrontation is always a brand new “line of flight”.
Some paintings make statements, whilest others distinctly ask questions. Both though when successful in the field of abstractions, tend to affect the parameters of painting itself. It seems that a Nozkowski – at one level – is contantly biting at the boundaries of abstractions, and
certainly Painting’s history. Rather than taking Painting to its physical limits as a Fabian Maccacio or Jessica Stockholder might do, Nozkowski is closer in spirit to Jonathan Lasker and Raoul de Keyser in his interrogation of Painting’s limits from within. Irrespective of his sources or even intentions, each encounter is a new beginning, a new experience and not just an unsubtle philosophical argument.
Nozkowski once said that Song Dynasty painters regarded en scene painting as vulgar; instead the moment was to be brought back to the studio and translated. Perhaps Nozkowski’s paintings are Song Dynasty on the Hudson. He has painted the world in his “color”, which is not just “pink on pink”.print