JUNE 2019

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JUNE 2019 Issue

Jack Youngerman: Cut-Ups

Installation view: Jack Youngerman: Cut-Ups, Washburn Gallery, New York, 2019. Courtesy Washburn Gallery.

Now more than 90 years old, Jack Youngerman continues to make art of a very high order. Born in St. Louis, he studied in the United States and in Paris shortly after the Second World War. The artist returned to New York in the mid-1950s and lived there until 1995, when he moved to Binghamton, upstate. His painting is characterized by hard edges and bright colors; the current painted collages on view are no exception. The art’s hard-edge geometry belongs to a tradition of working in the 1940s and ’50s, albeit a smaller one than the dominant abstract expressionism of the time. In Cut-Ups, his current exhibition, the pieces exhibited consist of layers of cut paper painted with gouache. Regularly attaining a depth of an inch, the collages fall in between paintings and low relief, and convey joyous feeling. His genre of formalism may not currently be in favor, but he communicates an energy and enthusiasm, primarily based on color, that is distinctive and original.

On View
Washburn Gallery
April 25 – June 14, 2019

The show’s achievement is unusually high. The imagery, consisting of brightly colored, often blue-hued compositions, is notable for its controlled, kaleidoscopic symmetry. The formal discipline these works of art display is unusually accomplished, even while this body of work maintains the distinctiveness of earlier examples of the genre. It also fits into the spirit of our time, in the sense that such imagery is regularly seen in galleries and museums today. Youngerman’s collages, however, stand on their own. Foil Black (2008 – 2018) is composed, like the rest of the work, of cut paper painted with gouache, but it is a particularly beautiful example. Divided into four quadrants, each colored black and dark blue and orange, the work holds in its center a dark-blue diamond shape with orange triangles angling inward on all four sides of the form. Four thin, yellow spikes pointed edges, proceeding from the center of the composition, divide the four quadrants.

Foil Black’s imagery is colorful and lively, with bright hues communicating vivid excitement. Little of the artist’s personality is available here, but intense feeling is communicated nonetheless. Blade Blue (2008 – 2018) depicts a downward-facing blue triangle, on top of which is a form resembling a three-petal flower. Within that is a yellow triangle, onto which orange forms echoing the triangle points occur. Finally, we find in the middle is a blue triangle, with a circle, and red and yellow bands framing a blue circular center. The piece has an eloquent geometric presence. Foil Blue (2008 – 2018), like the other pieces made of cut paper elements painted with gouache, is six-sided, the result of a triangular background—a green shape superimposed on blue. On top of that form are three shapes, near pentangles, with an orange background and a dark-blue, tri-part, hard-edge blue form on top. In the absolute center there is a blue triangle surrounded by an orange one. The presence of such a work is entirely self-sufficient, making it memorable for its audience.

Installation view: Jack Youngerman: Cut-Ups, Washburn Gallery, New York, 2019. Courtesy Washburn Gallery.

Point Blue (2008 – 2018) matches the other works in its sharply defined imagery. It consists of a blue square regularly interrupted by small yellow triangles. On top of the square are four images, exactly like each other; toward the center, there are yellow wing-like forms, framed by similar red forms. A dark blue top then frames that lower imagery. In the exact center of the collage, one finds a black cross ending in broad, point-like shapes, each thin neck outlined in orange. The descriptions of the works above tend to emphasize nearly academic formal choices, but Youngerman asserts something close to joy—this takes place in an abstract body of work we would not think would be able to easily communicate such feeling. Remarkably, the imagery remains not only rigorous but free, devoted as it is to a point of view that is implicitly rapt. Of special note is Youngerman’s ability to move from one collage to the next within the group and create considerable visual differences, despite the fact that he is working within a relatively narrow method. His excellence in this show may well stem from his willingness to envision his efforts within a narrow, but intensely felt, spectrum of color and form.


Jonathan Goodman

JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.


JUNE 2019

All Issues