Sunday, February 1st, 2004

Trevor Winkfield: Gardens and Bouquets

Tibor de Nagy Gallery
724 Fifth Avenue, 12th fl
New York, NY 10019

through February 7, 2004

Trevor Winkfield Concert 2003,  acrylic on linen, 34-1/2 x 43-1/2 inches images courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York
Trevor Winkfield, Concert 2003, acrylic on linen, 34-1/2 x 43-1/2 inches images courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York

With his fourth exhibition at Tibor de Nagy, Trevor Winkfield brings a new twist to his jazzy, collage-like paintings. Not that the new theme-Gardens and Bouquets-appreciably changes their impression of playful but careful chaos; the mechanistic, semi-abstracted chotchkas, swirling among brightly hued planes of color, still suggest something like the daydreams of an android poet. Now, however, one detects just a hint of high-tech yearning-unrequitable, perhaps-for nature’s organic plenitude.

There’s definitely a method to the arch-madness of these eleven paintings: rudimentary articulations (sometimes hinting at actual light sources, sometimes merely schematic) regularly model the objects’ volumes; proppings and pilings of forms attest to a kind of gravity, despite the abiding flatness; and foils of pure colors bracket and contain every composition. Do the goblets, gems, feathers, flames, sliced fruit, and unidentifiable gadgets-and, yes, blossoms-hold private meanings for the artist? Their honed surfaces and almost hallucinogenic color suggest that, as for Pop art, the style is the real subject-and indeed one finds here more than a little of Warhol’s process-color palette and Lichtenstein’s designer-shorthand.

But there’s something else happening here, too. Somewhat fitfully, these paintings reach for other purposes for color and design. Bits of colors bounce around in intriguing ways, such as in a sequence near the bottom edge of “Concert,” (2003) where a lick of simmering scarlet drives with sudden plastic force past jostling patches of limpid blue-green, dense green and a very retiring cobalt blue. In “The Corridor, ” (2002); the hues of four cubes navigating the mid-regions of the canvas-the same cobalt and blue-green, and a slightly cooler, stolid red-give palpable weight to the light passing over their facets. Such sparks of pure visual energy begin to gather into larger rhythms in “The Guardians,” (2003) before eventually dissipating in the general hubbub of forms, while in the “Garden VII,” (2003) a certain sameness of color pressures precludes any ignition at all. But in “Bouquet III,” (2002) sequences of color weights animate the entire surface. In this striking image, taut cords of red and white whip centrifugally from a single crimson bloom, reaching into the corners of a large neutral black. Demanding even more than its two-thirds share of the canvas, the black presses irresistibly against the surrounding heated red. Stiffening the retreating perimeter of red are smaller, dense articulations of cerulean stripes and a strange yellow ziggurat-like form. The eye follows as Winkfield uncovers small moments of plastic vitality, and elaborates and extends their energy into larger rhythms, locating all within a cohering scheme of visual events. It’s painting’s way of showing what’s big and minute, urgent and lax; it’s powerful stuff, if you’re into this kind of thing. It also happens to be the kind of thing that Léger and Gris did uniquely well.

Trevor Winkfield The Corridor 2002 acrylic on linen, 41 x 68 inches
Trevor Winkfield, The Corridor 2002 acrylic on linen, 41 x 68 inches

Not every artist that came after Léger or Gris-in fact, surprisingly few-made such complicated demands on color. Though some Pop artists returned to the Cubist idiom of planar construction, their color tended towards a climactic inertia-hues plucked from various points of the color wheel, but varying little in their density. In such work there’s little of Léger’s give-and-take among hues, of the intuitive hierarchy of color weights that conditions, say, the experience of a table leg stretching to connect cup and floor. (No matter how abstracted their images, the color relationships of the great Cubists reveal a surprising faithfulness to the contradictions and rhythms of actual observed light.) Revisiting Cubist stomping grounds, Winkfield does considerably better than some of the stars of Pop art, especially when his playfulness extends to a subjective characterizing with color.

At points in Gardens and Bouquets one feels that the artist would like to have it both ways, to have his Pop and eat it, too: he’d like to convey Warhol’s pleasure in the play of symbols and surrogates and the strange ways our culture digests itself; but he also hopes, like Léger, to reward the innocent, engaged eye. For much contemporary art, the designer-colors of Pop run rampant; it’s evident in the current vogue for unmodulated, sense-saturating cartoonishness. This is the kind of work designed for ultimate max-out effect: an instant, visceral impact that loses little in reproduction, and that doesn’t necessarily deepen upon experiencing more of it. Winkfield isn’t content with such eye candy, but he doesn’t mind being caught window-shopping.

Can the ethos of Pop art and the Cubism be reconciled? One might have thought the two irreconcilable, and that Pop with its instant and transportable impact had proved more durable, at least in the short run. Trevor Winkfield’s intriguing paintings, however, suggest other, tantalizing possibilities.