Sainte Victoire on the South Fork: Connie Fox and Sammy’s Beach
Connie Fox: Sammy’s Beach at Danese/Corey
March 21 to April 19, 2014
511 West 22 Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 223 2227
The ocean and bay beaches of the South Fork of Long Island (the Hamptons) are prized, respectively, for their surfing and swimming, but one East Hampton public beach ought some day be a place of pilgrimage for art lovers too thanks to the four decades of aesthetic communing with its genius loci of the painter Connie Fox. Sammy’s Beach (previously known as Sammi’s Beach) is her Mont Sainte Victoire.
Far from local children throwing pebbles at this American Cézanne, however, Fox is a highly respected member of the artistic community of East Hampton. Married to sculptor William King and living in the area since 1980, she first discovered the Hamptons at a guest of Elaine de Kooning, her teacher at the University of New Mexico and a lifelong friend.
Her current in-depth show at Danese/Corey, mostly of works from the last few years and the near-nonagenarian painter’s first with this gallery, unites three distinct groups of work extrapolated from this motif: rich, painterly, complexly lyrical and compositionally meandering canvases; austere yet robust black and white striped constructions in acrylic on paper; and dense, detailed, scatological yet calligraphic drawings in ink and charcoal (her Weeds series). These highly distinct bodies of work, bouncing from observation to constructivism to automatism, are united not so much in sensibility as intensity of engagement with a sense of place. The search feels less for form than for association.
Fox is a sophisticated, intellectually fearless artist whose aesthetics and career are disconcertingly disparate, for she brings a postmodern sense of disruption and questioning to what remains essentially an abstract expressionist vocabulary of gesture and touch. In the vaguely gridular Sammy’s Beach XIV, 2014, for instance, a painting that is at once fleshy and atmospheric she confounds expectations of balance and scale in the treatment of localness and all-overness, in speed and detail, in gestalt and deviation. While there are passages in her works that can recall Philip Guston (SB, XIV), Charles Burchfield (SB, III), or Cy Twombly (the Weeds series), her touch, very much her own, feels somehow rooted in – or perhaps just more relevant to – a more recent painting mindset.
Flesh and atmospherics in Sammy’s Beach XIV could signify bathers, perhaps, but her responses to the beach where she swims and walks every day nonetheless remain the opposite of topographical. Instead, her environment is a trigger for complex reveries taking the artist back to her childhood in Colorado on the edge of the dustbowl. As her biographer Joyce Beckenstein has written, “She remembers the warm sun turning that dust into a magical orange glow. She remembers the land, the river, the distant Rocky mountains, not as landscape, but as the bony structure, the architecture of the place.” As Fox has indeed devoted another memorable and extended series of paintings to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, one could describe Sammy’s Beach not just as her Sainte Victoire but her madeleine.