JAMES BISHOP, Four Brown Paintings 1971 - 1974
Our exhibition presents four large-format works, which is appropriate to their significance and which has to be seen as an extraordinary stroke of luck. Altogether some twenty works, the group of the brown paintings is significant as is their historic context. Starting in the mid-1960s, the status and future prospects of painting were called into question, such as in the following comment on the grand tradition made by Frank Stella in an interview with Lucy Lippard: "It's just that you can't go back. It's not a question of destroying anything. If something's used up, something's done, something's over with, what's the point of getting involved with it?" Nevertheless there were a few artists in the ranks of the avant-garde who still wished to be wholly and exclusively involved with painting and the inevitably associated history. Their achievements and their unique and individual profiles are all the more remarkable. James Bishop, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman are the painters who achieved a promising beginning at the juncture where the major generation of American Abstract Expressionists had laid down an insurmountable terminus. This was not an artistic movement, there was no proclamation of a common programmatic approach, and precisely because of this, the life's work of each of these protagonists of a renewed, viable painting constitutes a stable and inestimable edifice. The fact that their own effort and analysis enabled these important mavericks to achieve outstanding artistic accomplishments – despite and in concert with the grand supraindividual tradition – is a stroke of luck in the history of art.
The tangible, legible, visible sensations or sensory impressions that were brought forth by painting as an intrinsic value with ever greater clarity over the course of its long and splendid history were to survive and remain part of the artistic vocabulary. Yet this required radical innovation in regard to all subsequent formulations, inventions and decisions. For if isolated aesthetic symbols or qualities are merely extracted and presented as derivative, self-sufficient procedures, the result remains an irrelevant creation. The artist has to manage to concentrate medium and material, form and procedure into a new organism. The parts justify the whole and vice versa.
The provocation and problem behind the brown paintings by James Bishop were simply the paintings themselves. The size of the canvas, in the range of 195 x 195 cm, accommodates the handling by the artist. This is also why there was no reason to vary the scale. It is the self-evident scale of a family of things, neither very large, nor small. Properly affixed on the wall – that is, with a clear reference to the floor – the format becomes a quality of the work. Handling is an important aspect of the works, for Bishop painted them by laying the stretched canvas on the floor. The method of painting leaves the brushstroke with only a hidden presence. It is the strong, sensual presence of the skin of paint that dominates the happenings in the work. A clear and simple framework of bars organizes the pictorial structure. In a number of works, the white grounded canvas is part of the pictorial surface, which even more sharply accentuates the sensuality of the paint.
Yet all descriptions inevitably remain inadequate and extrinsic to the impetus of this painting. What emanates from this abstract painting is instead a deep and stately emotion, a peculiar and strong correspondence to visual reality.
James Bishop, Paintings on Paper 1959 - 2007,
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago March 3 to May 5 2008
Book CHF 45.00 (excl. shipping costs)
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