Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thomas Nozkowski

What to say about Thomas Nozkowski?

I found out about Nozkowski through John Yau's art criticism--Nozkowski is a painter Yau especially loves and a painter with whom Yau collaborated for the book Ing Gring. Nozkowski makes astounding abstract paintings. The paintings are usually small--neither the height nor the width of the two paintings below, for example, passes 30 inches--which Nozkowski has connected to political and economic reasons: the art market tends to see "major" works as large works, so Nozkowski explores the intimate, personal size that the market pushes aside.

And Nozkowski's method emphasizes a long ongoing process with the work. He keeps his unfinished painting in his studio, and over a period of years will work on each painting. He will take a painting out every now and then and find some way to "bring it into play," by adding a mark that doesn't work with what already exists in the painting, covering the existing painting with a wash, or some similar means to make the canvas active again. Over the years he will continue the process of bringing the painting into play and reworking it--until he intuitively feels that the work is done.

Nozkowski's method is one aspect of his work that interests me. I wonder what the work would look like if there were a record of it at each "finished" stage, each moment before the painting is reactivated. I imagine a narrative where each work shades the next work in the series, where each work is separate and waits to be marred so the next work can be built.

But the work, as it stands, astounds me. The strange shapes, the unresolved shifts between background and foreground, and the frequent refusal of balance gives these paintings a challenging, exciting rhythm. I try to imagine what can be done in abstract painting in the future and today that will still feel relevant. Often, it's difficult--much new abstraction I can find is stale, distant. But Thomas Nozkowski's work asserts the relevance of abstraction. His work is alive, vibrant, and intimate.

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