Friday, March 09, 2007

In Order.

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.

--Kenneth Koch

If you care about abstract painting--especially if you care about really smart, technically deft abstract painting--you need to see Robert Schatz's new show at The Phatory in Alphabet City. About a block off Tompkins Square Park, Schatz has staged a little riot of his own.

Many of the paintings are done on the temple of order that is staff paper. By making the choice to apply paint-- his own form of notation--on top of the staff paper Schatz seems to be making the point that there is another order at work here. It's not as logical, as mathematical, but more natural and intuitive.

Schatz's version of what that looks like is as unpredictable as it is involving and warm. I had seen a few of the paintings in jpeg form, but I wasn't ready for their power in the reals. And I certainly wasn't ready for some of the variations on his style.

In two of the works Schatz fills half of a lined-off rectanglular space with his intertwining swoops and sways. The other half is left white. It's a conversation with minimalism. It's a fill-in-the-blank exercise for the viewer. It's the juxtaposition of motion and breathing room. And obviously, it's something spectacular to look at.

Another painting looks as though he's taken his forms and squashed them into a short, elongated hill in the middle of white paper. Then I realized that the background was painted. Then I noticed all these lovely subtle gestures he had made within that white ground. The painting keeps burrowing into itself.

In stark contrast to all this is the painting on the back wall. The background isn't quite black and Schatz's gestures atop this vague darkness aren't quite white. It also stands out because the painting's surface is smoother than anything else in the gallery. It's anomalous nature made perfect sense in the order of this show.

One train is indeed hiding another train here, and they're both beautiful. Jump them.

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