by William Corwin
Where it all Began
THE GALLERY AT THE HIGH SCHOOL OF ART & DESIGN
OCTOBER 8 – NOVEMBER 18
Where it all Began is the debut exhibition in the gallery space of the new High School of Art & Design building. Though Ronnie Landfield’s work is more frequently connected to fellow lyrical abstractionists Ron Davis, Peter Young, Larry Stafford, Bill Pettit, and Larry Poons, history makes strange bedfellows when it comes to whom you went to high school with in New York. In this case, the artist’s alumni status puts him in with a more diverse crowd of creative types, ranging from Tony Bennett to Calvin Klein, George Kuchar, and Eva Hesse. Landfield started his artistic pursuits at the school in the department of cartooning. (Among the many illustrious graduates, the most notable is Art Speigelman, who has a stained glass installation in the clerestory of the cafeteria on the sixth floor.) However, all of the paintings in “Where it all Began” date from the last 15 years, and are quite distant in technique from the frothy swirling paintings that Landfield created soon after graduating from high school.
Landfield’s canvasses in this exhibition are rich, expansive studies in pure color that often coalesce around a very basic landscape format. They explore the figurative and metaphorical abilities of color to generate a persuasive sense of depth, volume, and even place. Two paintings: “Bluebird” (2000) and “Across The Western Plain” (2011), displayed catty-corner to each other to great effect, present a pastoralism of color, but refrain from physical references that might make the work trite. Naturally occurring hierarchies of color are respected: blue is above green; sky is above ground. But vibrant purples and intense streaks of orange deconstruct what we are accustomed to in nature. In “Bluebird” the stain of the sky, leaking definitively into the gray below, insists on abstraction as the linchpin of the process. As a painter who toys with the delicate balance of abstract versus real, Landfield’s work is pleasantly situated between the more realistic fantasies of Ellen Phelan and the tight and precise but wholly disembodied floating world of Fiona Rae.
Landfield has had many phases, some more bucolic, others brooding, contrarian and occasionally academic and his paintings attain varying degrees of painterly looseness. “We Walked All The Way” (1997) is a neat arrangement of solid but miasmatic ovals, hemmed at the bottom, like a mystical window pane, by a band of pure thick robin’s egg blue. Across the room, “Time’s Gift” (1998) counters with rowdier splashes of color that drip and disrespect each other’s personal space, but again, a cerulean blue pane denotes some directionality. Sadly, Landfield’s iconic ’60s painting “Diamond Lake, “ (1969), is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art but not in this exhibit. It is a hallucinogenic tone-poem of poured and stained color exploding up through the space of the canvas in violent billowing motion laced with tendrils of yellow and deep ochre. Perhaps it exemplifies the defiance of a youth spent in New York in the ’60s. “Where it all Began” though, fittingly is an exhibition about arriving, rather than setting out, which makes sense in a place where everybody else is just getting started.
245 2nd Ave. // New York, NY