Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Secular Exhilerations: Gregory Amenoff and Nature

Gregory Amenoff: Trace at Alexandre Gallery

October 17 to November 23, 2013
Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 13th Floor
at Madison Avenue
New York City, 212-755-2828

Gregory Amenoff, Lament, 2012. Oil on canvas, 72 x 64 inches. Courtesy of Alexandre Gallery
Gregory Amenoff, Lament, 2012. Oil on canvas, 72 x 64 inches. Courtesy of Alexandre Gallery 

Is it possible to unironically depict nature in the twenty-first century? We allow Odilon Redon (1840-1916) his lavish Symbolist visions. And we esteem August Strindberg (1849-1912) for his painterly proto-abstract landscapes. And of course we greatly admire Arshile Gorky’s (1904-1948) nature-based late paintings. But in our visual culture, where the activity of painting has become so problematic, what place is there for Gregory Amenoff’s art? The best answer to this question, I think, is that Amenoff’s nature is not the mountains, rivers and seas of the nineteenth-century Romantics; nor the nature of Redon or Strindberg: but, rather, nature as a springboard for autonomous painting that relies upon figurative associations. Take Kronos II (2012-13), for example, with its abstract-looking biomorphic blue, green and purple forms. Or look at the stunning Lament  (2012-13), my favorite painting in the show, which offers a view, as if through a window, onto a field of mysterious forms, sunlit sky and shrubbery, done in colors straight from Pierre Bonnard. Then consider, also Ember (2013), in which a blue-violet vortex opens into a dark interior, in which rectangular forms float. And observe closely, finally, The Wish (2012-13) where the curved window, which opens onto a bright sunny sky, is surrounded by delicate greens. (I don’t understand the titles, by the way.  For me, they don’t aid analysis.) The colored pencil drawings provide a generous selection of Amenoff’s motifs, but because they appear, too often, to be images of Surrealistic natural motifs, the paintings, which more elaborately transform his subjects, are much more successful.

Gregory Amenoff, Pageant, 2013. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Alexandre Gallery
Gregory Amenoff, Pageant, 2013. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Alexandre Gallery

Amenoff’s subjects are varied, and they are difficult to identify, and often, a little difficult to describe. Painting on the scale of Abstract Expressionism, he depicts nature as if from very close up, showing intensely lit microscopic forms. His pictures have some affinities with the early paintings of Bill Jensen, which are smaller, and the scenes done from nature by Michael Kessler, another artist who came to prominence in the 1980s. But here Amenoff has found and dramatically developed a style all of his own. Painters who work with close attention to nature are often said to be visionaries. If your chosen subjects are cityscapes, then it is said that you are a realist, perhaps even a materialist; but if you focus on skies and trees, then, it is assumed you are in search of transcendental revelations. Such, at least is the bias of we city-dwellers, who visit the country only on weekends and on holiday. If you seek to understand Amenoff’s paintings, this way of thinking is limiting. That nature offers him marvelous resources doesn’t make his paintings images of sacred themes. Pageant, (2013) with its flowering orange forms set above a delicately painted field of stalks, is exhilarating.  But you don’t have to be seeking a religious vision to greatly admire this painting. The fascination of our visual world as depicted by Amenoff is self-evident.

Gregory Amenoff, Kronos II, 2012. Oil on canvas, 84 x 76 inches. Courtesy of Alexandre Gallery
click to enlarge