WHITE COLUMNS | SEPTEMBER 12 – OCTOBER 25, 2014
The danger of the art world constantly searching for the “next big thing” is that quieter, more introspective work, like that of painter Bill Lynch is easily overlooked. Thankfully, he has just been given his inaugural—and posthumous—New York exhibition at White Columns. Lynch, who died last year at the age of 54, had been painting since his student days at Cooper Union, in the late 1970s. Other than a memorial leaflet penned by Michael Wilde (available at the gallery), almost nothing has been written about Lynch, and though it appears that his output was prodigious, he was known to only a small coterie of other working artists and friends.
In the wake of the artist’s death, one of these friends, fellow painter Verne Dawson, with the support of Lynch’s family, has finally seized an opportunity to organize this formidable show. The 45 paintings assembled at White Columns present a lucid body of work that draws on a wide variety of sources—from nature to folk and indigenous art to Asian calligraphic forms to religious and mythological motifs—to create a singular and absorbing world. Lynch worked in a simple and immediate manner, applying fluid strokes of oil directly onto unfinished wooden planks (he mostly eschewed canvas). The different grains of wood emerge through their painted surfaces not by accident. Rather, they contribute to the humble, organic quality of Lynch’s work.
The results are multifaceted. Some paintings, like “Untitled (Waterfall and Pink Flowers)” (n.d.) are dense and lush. A cascade of blue spills vertically down the center of the board, partially obscured by the verdant green of fauna and the saturated reds of tropical flowers. The work is alive with the thick, humid air, the redolence of wet peat, and the raw, fertile energy that pervades a jungle. Likewise, “Untitled (Blue Vase)” (n.d.), painted in deep blues, greens, and black on a dark wooden slab, exudes the murkiness of an impenetrable night. A skull, strange animals, and brooding, moonlit tree branches surround the blue Ming-style vase central to the painting. As with so many of the works on view, it bears close scrutiny for the reward of further symbols and images surfacing in the enigmatic paint.
Lynch had a sophisticated, unflinching color palette that is evident even in the sparer works, and which was highlighted by his deft brushstrokes. From across the room, the eye is drawn to works like “Untitled (Deer)” (n.d.), a depiction of an abstracted deer bounding through tall grass, glancing back jauntily over its shoulder. It’s one of the few panels whose surface has first been washed entirely in white (giving the impression of canvas from a distance), and its lightness stands out, especially as it is installed amongst much darker works. The animal’s insouciant facial expression and the minimal brushstrokes that make up its body and the tall grass are reminiscent of fine Japanese calligraphy.
In the early 1990s, Lynch once wrote to a friend, “I realized that the art of the 20th century is the fruit of personal revelation, while ancient art is the product of mystery initiation.” It’s this notion that seems to set Lynch apart from so many other contemporary artists. His work is neither big, nor explosive, nor self-absorbed. It is an antidote to the Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter-inspired “entertainment art” audiences have almost come to expect (or perhaps have resigned themselves to) when visiting a gallery. Lynch’s work is hushed, contemplative, and therefore easier to lose in the noise of the world. To let it go is a mistake. His paintings ask the viewer to do the work of unveiling their many potential meanings, and implore with a whisper to consider the mysteries of what they have to offer. It is not that Lynch’s work is out of step with the times. Rather, it is timeless.
JESSICA HOLMES is a New York-based writer and critic who is the ArTonic Section Editor, and contributes regularly to the Brooklyn Rail, Artcritical, Hyperallergic, and other publications.