A Credit-Worthy Show of Trevor Winkfield, at Milton Art Bank, Milton, PA
Trevor Winkfield Early & Later at the Milton Art Bank
January 25th to April 21st, 2018
23 South Front Street, Milton, PA 17847
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 12-6PM
The Crash of 1929 has had at least one excellent consequence for art in the twenty-first century. In Milton, Pennsylvania the new bank that had just opened its doors was barely able to gasp on for a few years before going belly up. After a second life as a library, the bank building has been remade as an art exhibition space: The Milton Art Bank. Founded by artist and writer Brice Brown last year, their current exhibition, Trevor Winkfield: Early and Later, is a compact retrospective of thirty paintings and collages.
The exhibition spans the years 1968 through 2010. A number of these works have never been shown before nor reproduced. These previously aloof works offer their own perspective on how the ever-evolving Winkfield has changed over the past four decades.
Winfkield has been painting, first in his native England and the past few decades in New York City, since the early 1960s. A long hiatus in the early 1970s, during which he concentrated on writing had, in the end, greater implications for his art than for the world of literature. The writing star Winkfield followed during this period was the French eccentric Raymond Roussel who employed a number of verbal techniques—including puns, vowel shifts, taking a pen-nib cleaver to multisyllabic words, et al—to find bursts of inspiration to generate his writing. Winkfield mastered this approach in a number of quirky, humorous fictions, and kept it in mind when he returned to painting. For a number of years he constructed his works from Roussel-inspired chains of personal word and image associations. So seamlessly have these strands been braided together that we can almost never see evidence of the process. One instance where he has deliberately left it on the surface is The Painter and His Muse (1996), where an easel and an eagle confront one another, separated by a single consonant. More recently (Winkfield is smilingly evasive about the timeline) the construction has become more instinctive, while, as this exhibit illustrates, even more complex.
Circling the bright white rectangle of the room viewers can clearly see some changes over time, one example being how Winfkield’s color sense—saturated shades, ungraduated, with crisply defined edges—has remained individual (nothing straight from the tube, ever) even as it has gradually taken on more of a dynamo hum, brightened toward the neon. Other changes can be sensed, but evade dry analysis. Images and elements repeat, appear in more than one work, but never seem repetitive, the felt contexts of their new surrounds keeping them fresh.
Although the show is not hung chronologically, the first painting the visitor comes to is Cave (1976), which in turn was the first painting Winkfield did upon his return to painting. This small painting depicts the view from inside a cave, its exit blocked by a rickety grid of wood slats and looped rope. Is this an allegory, a p. o. v. self-portrait of an artist reemerging? Quite possibly, but with its striking contrasts of coal black and slate blue cave walls with the bright sky beyond, the painting is also a recognition of the lure of the painted image.. While Cave uses only five colors, this show as a whole reminds us that Winkfield has employed an almost uncountable range of colors over the years. (This is further highlighted by the Bank space, whose very tall walls are so white they almost glow.) Near Cave hangs one of the most chromatically rich paintings in the exhibition, First Prize: Three Apples (2001). This features two figures comprised, as are the best of Winkfield’s figures, of stacks and lively mobiles of curious objects, all precisely detailed, only a few identifiable. The colors range from a pale yellow ground to a deep black background sky.
Meticulously smooth surfaces, with each image laid in like a decal, are so consistently a feature of Winkfield’s paintings that the pieces here that have a more obvious material presence—a collage study for a magazine cover; a triangular clownish face in crisp papers; a study collage of stele proportions (17 inches wide, eight feet tall)—catch the viewer’s eye. The striking and eerie Eye, Tree, Prospect Park (2008) is an acrylic-on-paper collage study for a painting. Even the shallow degree of depth that the overlapping, stiff papers exhibit, like bright thin shale, conveys a not-quite-settled feeling in contrast to the characteristic Winfkield surface.
At times the tinkered-together arrays Winkfield assembles are painted with awkward couplings to convey a deliberate disjointedness But only in one painting, Father and Son (1982), do the pieces fail to cohere with a common energy, seem randomly laid into the space; a snapshot of a worktable rather than a finished composition.
Father and Son is one of three works that hang in the Art Bank’s vault, a mini-exhibition space the size of a large elevator in which the viewer can feel immersed in Winkfield’s imaginary worlds, with works on three close-quartered sides. Also in the vault is Republic of Small Children I (1980), in the middle of which are two small children exclaiming something in a muddy town square, a scene simultaneously bright (though the pallet of this early work has a slight, deliberate, washed-out cast left behind in the more recent works) and somehow sinister. The third vault work is Home from Home (1984), a wholly successful, multi-planed painting with a terrifying witch-like figure front and center, her complexion resembling that of the moon in Le Voyage dans la lune, a 1902 film Winkfield admires.
What had been upper level offices in banking days has been walled off and three large canvases—the largest being Voyage 1 (1995), four by six feet of brightly colored Muybridge- like rhythmic progress— hang there, floating above viewers’ heads. Also included here, resting on a window ledge, is the most successful of Winkfield’s occasional series of 12 by 12 inch works I’ve seen, Upwardly Dripping (2009). Where most of these small works strike the viewer as tweezed-out selections-from or samplers—that is, suggest they are lifted from more complete works—Upwardly Dripping, divided as it is along the horizontal, generates enough tension between its top and bottom halves, which seem to be fleeing one another, that is is very much able to stand as a complete work on its own. So much so that the window to the wider world just behind it merits not even a passing glance in comparison.
Winkfield enthusiasts should also note that a show of his recent paintings has recently opened at Tibor de Nagy in New York City. Anyone able to attend both exhibitions will be afforded a rare opportunity to observe Winkfield’s evolution over a span of more than forty years.