Milton Resnick Rememberedby Phong Bui
“The desire to force a style beforehand is only a mere apology for one’s own anxiety,” Willem de Kooning once said. That remark poignantly broadened my reading of Milton Resnick’s entire oeuvre, especially after my first visit with a friend to his studio in 1986, a former synagogue on Eldridge Street. The experience was important for us as young art students. With the diffused light coming from the windows absorbed by the dense, abraded brick walls that must have been untouched for half a century, he was standing firmly in the middle of his studio like a prophet from the Old Testament. Resnick was, however, more interested in telling us about the way he made his own oil paint than talking about his paintings. He carried on with a physical passion for the materials similar to that of a mason for his bricks and mortar.
On my second visit, he gave me a catalogue of his major survey from 1945–85 at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas, and then he whispered to me, “Look at Soutine, Bill de Kooning did.” Resnick’s ideas about art and life are in many ways parallel to Ad Reinhardt’s. Resnick and Reinhardt met in 1933 at the American Artist’s school, an offshoot of the John Reed Club. Both held strong convictions about the value of abstraction. They also shared a mutual disdain for the commercialism of the art world, and in 1961 they held a controversial debate about the corruption of art at the 8th Street Art Club. They were both difficult and complicated men, at odds with their contemporaries; and their work will always remain inaccessible to the general public. The two artists viewed art as a religion, but while Reinhardt approached it through rational means in his subtle and legendary monochromatic black paintings, which prefigured the ascendance of minimalism in the 1970s, Resnick’s tendencies toward reduction were emotionally driven. For that reason Resnick’s work can be difficult to confront, and I suspect it might take us a long time to fully grasp the depth and substance of his painting.