Friday, May 31, 2013

the spring of Jack Youngerman

at The Drawing Room: Jack Youngerman  works on paper  1951-2012, above: Blue Delfina,1961


The Drawing Room
Washburn Gallery
Parrish Art Museum
and LongHouse Reserve

In one of those rare alignments that sometimes takes place in the art world, this spring Jack Youngerman is popping up all over New York. With four concurrent installations shedding light on this esteemed artist, the complexities of Youngerman's vision, the arch of his prodigious studio practice and the depth of his ongoing research begin to crystallize, inviting reflection on and examination of a career that spans some six decades.

Yellow/Black, 1958, gouache on paper, 5 1/8 x 5 1/8"

Youngerman's artistic prelude dates to post-war Paris and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he became friends with the artists Cesar, Eduardo Paolozzi and Ellsworth Kelly, all of whom were also students there. Inspired by the use of organic form in School of Paris masters such as Matisse, Brancusi and Arp, his early interest in the flatness and frontality of geometric abstraction gradually morphed into a signature alphabet of invented shapes that came to characterize much of his mature work. 

A selection of these early works is on view at The Drawing Room, providing a window into the incisive groundwork laid down by the young artist early on. 

Then and now, in the studio Youngerman assiduously researches structure and content through small works on paper, and at The Drawing Room dozens of works wind through decades of the artist's insights into form and color. It's a must see.



At Betty Parson's urging, in 1956 Youngerman moved to New York, settling at Coenties Slip alongside fellow artists Kelly, Agnes Martin, Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist and Lenore Tawney. Rauschenberg and Johns lived nearby, and while the group did not so much form a "movement," they did, in some profound ways, mount a visual insurgence in reaction to the Abstract Expressionists uptown.

Black/Red, 1959, oil on canvas

Youngerman's paintings from this era have a fierce physicality, and though they elucidate and encompass organic, biomorphic -- even lyrical -- form, the works employ a bracing palette and pigment so thick it's sculptural -- as if he was wrangling the paint into objecthood. The works on paper revel in this budding sense of form and motion, hugging the edges of paper rectangles as if a mere square could not contain their content. 

The invented shape emerged here, defined by pitch blacks and mustard yellow, pungent reds and bright orange pigmentation that coalesce into imagery as it pushes between the boundaries of foreground and background. 

Orange/Black Ink, 1959,  gouache and ink on paper, 4 7/8 x 4 3/8" 

These articulated shapes would be a keystone -- the backbone of a visual language Youngerman has continually refined and redressed as he has calibrated the edges of each form and the contour of every line with rigorous focus, as layers of pictorial syntax emerge. 

Seeing them now, one has a sense of the iconic in the making. Movement, convergence, eruption, ease, touching and pulling away -- the shapes address myriad contingencies -- they became, over time and focus, an arsenal of component parts.

The new work -- a selection of oil paintings on shaped wood currently on view at Washburn Gallery -- is optical, sharply frontal, and so brilliant the paintings are almost incandescent. 

at Washburn Gallery: Jack Youngerman  Tondos Triads Foils, above: Whitefoil, 2011

The paintings are heraldic and resolute, reading like the armorial facade of medieval escutcheons and sharing the symmetry and otherworldliness of Tibetan thangkas as well as more esoteric visual systems such as those found in cuneiform tablets or Islamic maps

From this perspective, Youngerman's keen and longstanding interest in non-Western art is especially noteworthy.

Where the early paintings are muscular in paint application and structure, the recent works possess a muscularity that is cerebral, labyrinthine and migratory -- as if they are connected to, or en route to, a higher concept. The paint is directional, slathered on in textured rivulets that lead the eye as if an invisible map is contained within each color bar. 

detail of Suspensus, 2010, oil on Baltic birch plywood, photo courtesy Washburn Gallery

Pancarte, 1951, ink on paper

If one assembled pictures of 
Youngerman's entire output into 
a gigantic flip-book (what a ride 
that would be...), to me, the
most recent work would stand 
eyeball to eyeball with the 1950s,
almost full circle.

The intent, of course, is different. 
But the level of intricacy that 
reverberates throughout both 
bodies of work is striking, with
both having a marked and
indelible effect on the 
optic nerve.


You really can't experience these paintings unless you're standing in front of them -- they are both cool and hot -- and at Washburn, they bounce between one another like ziggurats in a reflecting pool. 

on view at Washburn Gallery through June 28

Washburn Gallery window in Chelsea

Jack Youngerman, also appearing in Chelsea
courtesy Washburn Gallery:

Finally, on view at the Parrish Art Museum -- animated, ebullient and downright explosive -- Conflux II, 2003 (below), is a testament to Youngerman's expansive and ever advancing oeuvre.

at The ParrishConflux II, 2003; collection Parrish Art Museum

Don't miss these insightful exhibitions both on Long Island's East End and in midtown Manhattan. 

at The Drawing Room: Yellow/Black, 1960

check back next week: 

Jack Youngerman, Black & White 
at LongHouse Reserve

at LongHouse Reserve: Jack Youngerman, Black & White, an installation of 7 fiberglass sculptures

66 Newtown Lane
East Hampton, NY 11937
on view through June 3rd

20 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
on view through June 28

279 Montauk Highway
Water Mill, NY 11976

133 Hands Creek Road
East Hampton, NY 11937
on view through October

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