JAMES BISHOP (*1927 USA) Paintings 1963-1987 Part I
In the early 1960s, James Bishop painted his first large-format square paintings. Since it was the first time he was able to afford buying a roll of canvas, he tried to make the fullest possible use of its width of two meters. He fitted the canvas onto a 195 x 195 cm stretcher frame. While this set of dimensions certainly pushes the limits, it is in keeping with the economy our painter applied in handling his material. It is a highly personal economy that has a high level of appreciation for the value of the unpainted and painted canvas and for the fine saturated color pigments. The latter exhibit various degrees of warmth and coat the canvas with a seemingly corporeal skin. Canvas and paint evidently prompt an inhibition that is never fully overcome. It compelled the painter all his life to live up to his role and have the painting find itself by means of complicated strategies. When his interest in the large canvases on a human scale – that of himself – began to wane a good quarter of a century later, the economy was transferred more and more to small papers that become paintings through many contacts with brush and stylus, with an intensity and concentratedness that can scarcely be surpassed.
From a certain perspective, a painted picture is initially always occasion for a work of painting. The history of painting is the history of more or less significant and successful works and the pleasurable manner in which painters and the initiated and adept have become addicted to these works. A peculiar addictive behavior is hence the common denominator that secures a continuously handed down, unbroken interest on a particular level of reception for objects of different aesthetic coherence and material properties. It is only since paintings have been confused with all painted pictures that a certain vexation has arisen. There is a need for precise demarcation and serious investigation and definition of criteria. It is clear that these have to be taken from tradition, yet without falling into mere repetition of it. In this field, this is the noblesse of personal formulation, of consistent innovation, and the lifework of James Bishop serves as an exquisite example here.
A manageable number of canvases that James Bishop painted constitute fixed locations in his memory and in his life. Small groups of works are significant individual cases, as it were, in the cautious and instructive dialogue. This is to be presented in two exhibitions. The first presentation consists of six paintings – three from the 1960s and three from the 1980s.
The organization of the compositional framework is always simple and defined by bars and sections of painted canvas. The places where the fields of color form a seam create boundaries of fully restrained vibration. Bishop once referred to his surfaces as disturbed surfaces. The hidden brushwork of the painter becomes transmitted, as a peculiar movement and moving emotion all its own.
Expressing oneself in regard to this painting is a difficult undertaking. It is as if that would disturb its calm and clarity. Yet of course, it would be favoring a myth to allege that these paintings can only be accessed directly and with the eye. A fulfilled experience of art includes both visual cognition and recognition in equal measure. This first requires having knowledge about the tree on which the fruits have grown.
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