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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

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MARCH 2021 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

42. (5 West 21st Street)

A painter recently arrived from San Francisco where he socialized far more with poets than with other artists moves into a 4th-floor walk-up near the Flatiron Building. There he begins to build up areas of his abstract paintings with thick clumps of color. The proportion of pigment to oil is so extreme that the material takes on the consistency and weight of plaster or clay. He has to resort to masonry trowels and two-by-fours to transfer the resulting globs of paint onto canvases where they protrude two, three, or even four inches from the surface. These “islands” or “outcroppings” (two of the terms critics later use to describe them) are so heavy that they pull the canvases off their stretchers, forcing him to switch from canvas to masonite and plywood. In some cases the hard mounds of color have to be hammered into the supports.

Slowly it dawns on the artist that his future may not lie with painting. One day he confesses to a friend, “I’m going to be a sculptor.” He also tells this friend, who is himself a sculptor: “I fought all the way to stay on the wall.” True to his word, he subsequently abandons painting for full three-dimensionality and soon gains attention and praise for his monumental, dynamically cantilevered sculptures. As for his “island” paintings, few of which have sold, he constructs a secret storage area at the back of a closet in his studio and, without telling a soul, seals up some 35 early paintings within it. Only years later, after the artist dies at the age of 70, does his assistant discover this hidden chamber and its artistic treasures. Once returned to view, these long-forgotten works have the effect of introducing an entirely new artist to the history of postwar painting.

(Ronald Bladen, George Sugarman, Larry Deyab)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

All Issues