David Findlay Jr.
The current show of paintings and drawings by Charles Cajori should be an eye-opener for painters enraptured by our amnesiac art world. A founding member of the Tanager Gallery and intimate associate of the 10th Street School, Charles Cajori has had an extraordinary career steeped in the history of 20th century art. He has been lauded by historian-critics Dore Ashton and Irving Sandler and painter-critic Fairfield Porter. More recently, he has received favorable critiques from Ken Johnson in the Times and Mario Naves in the Observer. But it is Cajori’s painting, in which he grapples with Cézanne and de Kooning, that most clearly demonstrates his connection to the history of his discipline.
When Cézanne said that he wanted to make something solid out of impressionism, I imagine he meant something like what Cajori’s up to. Cézanne’s solid planes of color insist on the surface of the painting as a flat field against which the painter acts. This sensation is much stronger with Cézanne than with the impressionists, and so it is with Cajori. Unlike later artists championed by Clement Greenberg, Cézanne stuck with his representational motifs—figures and landscapes. Again, Cajori follows suit. In the most mystifying of his paintings on display at David Findlay Jr., aptly called “Interspace” (1955), Cajori melds the space of a portrait with that of a landscape. In it, a central swath of ochre evokes a portrait head while the surrounding sea of twined colors and the painting’s horizontal structure suggest landscape.
Cajori’s confounding of these motifs and simultaneous flattening of pictorial space suggests a reexamination of Cézanne in light of de Kooning, to whom Cajori’s brushwork owes an obvious debt. Cajori seems to pit these two masters against one another to seek a common ground as a base for his own work. This technique of working in response to masters, common to painters as far back as Giotto, is an indication of the esteem in which Cajori holds his tradition.
Cajori is always in the act of observing, most recently in his series of figures from the 1990s. They’re loosely painted moments of indolence in the landscape that reveal how drawing underpins all of Cajori’s work. It is not simply that he has learned to draw well and can expertly render his subjects, although this is certainly true. It is that drawing from life—bodily movement in response to direct observation—inspires his entire enterprise. Cajori uses his body to animate his paintings. His brush work is fast. A daub of paint stands in for the lawn, and quick hatching defines figures’ interlocking limbs. Surfaces are active, one gesture giving way to another. Looking at these paintings, one paints along with Cajori, following his brisk decisions and movements as he completes his work.
Charles Cajori might seem difficult to grasp to a contemporary sensibility. His attitude toward tradition is a far cry from the novelty show into which the contemporary art world too often degenerates. Cajori found his style before Greenberg’s pronouncements on the dos and don’ts of painting gained sway, and even longer before these same pronouncements became the object of scorn for contemporary tongue-in-cheek painters. A long career can sometimes be an obstacle to reaching viewers. Better to burn out than to fade away. Or is it? Without the sense of individual struggle with history and lineage that Cajori’s art exemplifies, painting has little to offer beyond decorative flair.
ContributorBen La Rocco
Walter Corwin’s A Short History of NowBy Allison Green
OCT 2022 | Theater
Walter Corwin Invites us to Experience an Intimate and Revealing “Short History of Now”
Lisa Slominski’s Nonconformers: A New History of Self-Taught ArtistsBy Jo Lawson-Tancred
JUNE 2022 | Art Books
Building on the history of Outsider art dating back to the 1970s, this book dives into the implications, limits, and paradoxes of the popular and problematic label. Placing the emphasis on the artists themselves and the formal properties of their work, the book foregrounds their practices over excessive biographic detail.
Jayson Musson: His History of ArtBy Laurel V. McLaughlin
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
In the second video of three in Jayson Musson: His History of Art at The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM), a russet-colored-corduroy-suited, yellow turtle-necked, and well-meaning but supercilious art collector Jay, aka Jayson Musson, gently explains to his roommate, a pot-smoking hare, Ollie: Art history isnt that complicated. Whatever man fucks it kills and whatever it kills it fucks.
Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar’s A History of Arab Graphic DesignBy N.A. Mansour
APRIL 2021 | Art Books
Easily the best introduction to the history of modern Arab visual culture on the market today, this new book lacks the jargon of exhibition catalogues, leans heavily on visual sources, and dismisses some previously held assumptions about Arab art.