Thomas Nozkowski – Recent Work


Escape Into Life

 Untitled (8-130), 2010, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 inches

I’m having my moment of Thomas Nozkowski zen. Taking in the paintings in his current exhibition at Pace on 25th Street, makes me feel a bit absurd – but absurd in a good way. The paintings slow me down and finally I reach a point where intellect ends and a pure form of pleasure begins. The paintings are decisively indecisive; they seem to be about something from nature, but figuring out what they represent feels like looking for inherent meaning at the bottom of Noam Chomsky’s paper shredder.

Thomas Nozkowski’s new show at The Pace Gallery, Recent Work, exhibits twenty oil paintings made over the past two years. Each painting is presented alongside a drawing variation that shows an alternative direction to the existing painting. Besides giving us insight into the artist’s creative process it’s important to understand the drawings were produced after each painting was executed, not before.

Escape Into Life

 Untitled (8-122), 2009, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 inches

For the past thirty years Nozkowski has produced small scale, abstract paintings and drawings composed of organic and geometric forms. The artist restricts himself to oil paint only using a small sized brush on an easel-sized canvas, board or panel. His practice is based on drawing in paint in a way that neither emphasizes nor de-emphasizes the hand of the artist. He continually returns to the formal issue of the figure/ground relationship, while utilizing patterns, broken grids, and all the conventions we associate with still lifes, landscape painting and cartoons, to arrive at a place where the work can be logically understood. In all his work he merges together playfulness and innovation, while not compromising his vast knowledge of art, architecture, and film.

Taught by truthy Abstract Expressionists, Nozkowski claims the oils on paper are like snapshots of moments in the lives of his paintings.

Nozkowski looks at Pollock’s, Reinhardt’s and George Herriman’s legacy while creating his own at the same time. He paints without a formal preconception placing one mark, shape or color down, changing it, then adding another. The paintings have depth, space, traditional rendering, shifting perspectives, and are based on Noskowski’s actual experiences – they are pseudo-narratives that have more in common with representational painting than initially meets the eye.  By using and exploiting the vocabulary of non-objective, biomorphic painting and possessing a subtle understanding of the history of representation and a keen sense of story, Nozkowski kicks down the door of realism without ever entering the room.

Escape Into Life

 Untitled (8-128), 2010, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 inches

I discover myself trying to decipher the quirky resonating puzzle forms, quasi-recognizable glyphs and plains of masterfully painted surface, all rendered in a range of colors from explosive, saturated and drenched to submissive, ghostly and arid. The show feels like a rebus.  If I just look long enough a band will start playing and Nozkowski will come out from behind the curtain and tell me the meaning of life, or to remember to buy a quart of milk on the way home.

This is Thomas Nozkowski’s second show at The Pace Gallery and it looks and feels superior to his last one in their other West 25th Street space.  Go see the show during the day: the lights will be off and the even all-over glow from the skylights is exactly what the paintings and the human eye require. These paintings would look great in the men’s room of the Port Authority Bus Terminal: they look astonishingly good at Pace. All in all, prosperity hasn’t hurt him or his work; in spite of the bling-bling, Nozkowski is still dancing with the girl he came to the prom with.  While it was probably done with the sincerest of intentions, I question the idea to put the drawings next to each painting since it disrupts the reverie of the show, but other people might appreciate it more than I did.

Escape Into Life

Untitled (8-127), 2010, oil on linen on panel, 22 x 28 inches

Not for the first time I find myself asking, how can anyone paint this way? Moreover, some people might ask how can anyone still paint at all?  Is there meaning still in painting abstract forms? They do, they can and there is…  So much art ones sees is hardwired into popular culture and may leave some  viewers understandably feeling sideswiped by emotionally charged gimmicky.  So if the Nozkowski show is accused of being something of a contemplative respite from the holy trinity of gender, race and real estate, if it ignores the aesthetic strategies of amber alertism,  then that’s okay.

All Images are courtesy of The Pace Gallery

Thomas Nozkowski (b. 1944, Teaneck, New Jersey) received a B.F.A. from The Cooper Union Art School in New York City in 1967. Nozkowski’s paintings have been in over 300 museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide, including 73 solo shows. In 2009 the National Gallery of Canada presented the largest exhibition of Nozkowski’s work to date, and in 2008 the Fisher Landau Center for Art in Long Island City, New York, presented Thomas Nozkowski: Paintings. In 2007, ten works were featured in Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind – Art in the Present Tense, Robert Storr’s exhibition at the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Meredith Rosenberg currently lives in New York City where she is the Gallery Director at BravinLee programs and partner in BravinLee editions (hand-knotted rugs by contemporary artists).  BravinLee programs is pleased to present Philip Akkerman, Am I A Person? October 22 – November 24, 2010 www.bravinlee.com