The work of Frank Stout has an unusual paradox: the painterly eloquence, which seems to evoke a deceptive ease in depicting modes of appearances, is betrayed by a compulsive need to iterate expressionistic gestures throughout the picture planes.
Frank Stout is a product of the movement that in the 1950s began to counter the prevailing abstract styles by working with the figure—Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter, Jan Muller, Wolf Kahn, and Bob Thompson were among the leading proponents of this approach. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, Stout’s interest in the figure has a particular emphasis on lesser expressionistic pathos. His descriptive representation of subdued facial expression projects his own empathy for each individual he portrays. One gets the feeling that Stout might deliberately choose whether to invent his own figure or to work from photographs in order to increase the freedom of spontaneity. This choice is perhaps essential in reading the intentionality behind Stout’s work.
The two paintings in the show, “Nursing School Graduates” and “Highschool Graduate,” are good examples of Stout’s most successful syntheses of descriptive form and his insistence on flattening the picture plane. He manages to achieve this by a grid-like repetition of brushwork, which operates via a multitude of gestures that are more akin to intimate expressionistic calligraphy than to the large silhouettes in Alex Katz’s monumental canvases. In this respect, Frank Stout is closer to the Abstract Expressionists in terms of content rather than size. Furthermore, Stout’s foremost seductive quality is the luminous liquidity he gives both to the paint and to the painted alike, creating an evanescence of lightness and spirit. Stout’s sincerity, meanwhile, would never allow him to be too clever.
The Painting Center New York, January 28 – February 24, 2001