The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

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DEC 19-JAN 20 Issue

Larry Poons: "First Thought, Best Thought"—The Particle Paintings (1996-2002)

On View
Yares Art
“First Thought, Best Thought”—The Particle Paintings (1996-2002)
November 9 – December 21, 2019
New York
Larry Poons, Untitled, 1996. Mixed media on paper, 8 1/4 x 11 3/4 inches. Courtesy Larry Poons and Yares Art. Photo: Jason Mandella Photography.

Larry Poons utilizes foam, rubber, and polyester fiber to draw, outline, and structure his “Particle Paintings.” The compositions are subsequently painted using brushes and sometimes the artist’s own hands. The artist had used materials such as these in the early 1990s as an “under drawing” in his performative, process-oriented “Pour Paintings.” In those paintings the paint ran, dripped and congealed on the surface, flowing and spattering across and downwards after being thrown and poured. The previously buried materials that had impeded flowing paint, are in these works openly placed across their surfaces as discrete elements. They are somewhat akin to drawings by children: unfussy, direct, energized, inventive. The paintings are strikingly bold. Configurations of disjunctive color and pattern don’t so much settle as insist on taking the viewer for yet another go around. Somehow this is never finished; the viewer is caught in a process, not of resolution but of constant change. They recall some of Jackson Pollock’s remarkable works from the mid-1940s such as The Water Bull (1946) and The Blue Unconscious (1946) that similarly evince a vitality and openness containing no niceties or stylistic prohibitions. There appears to be both forcefulness and humor, a life of full experience rather than one of caution, taste or edits: first thoughts, best thoughts, indeed. The urgent, shifting rhythms of hard-bop jazz, or the frequent solo sections of bluegrass music, come to mind.

There is so much chance: in mistakes made, improvisations risked. In fact, everything appears to be found along the way. Nothing is wasted, because there is no master plan or route to adhere to, and it’s the very contingency that proves so productive—Poons is facilitating the paintings’ progress. This is an erudite artist, and it is this that informs his willingness to not impose conceptual strictures on his painting; rather, he finds ways to paint through, let’s say, conversing or participating with the medium. Allowing a painting to take its course requires both nerve and knowledge. When successful, as it clearly is here, it enables an artist’s particular energy to thrive. It is manifest in how exactly Poons puts the paint to canvas and in his reaction to what happens with color, the accumulated light that results from this.

Larry Poons, Alizona, 1997. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 89 1/2 x 170 inches. Courtesy Larry Poons and Yares Art. Photo: Jason Mandella Photography.

Alizona (1997) is a large-scale horizontal painting of 89 ½ x 170 inches and typical in scale of the majority of paintings presented. Linear strips of foam trace the periphery of irregular shapes that themselves often contain more cut and torn foam pieces. Mountains, birds, and waves all come to mind in following the staccato patterns and ragged or smooth junctions between the physical three dimensionality of the foam and the brush- or finger-painted color that either follows shape or trespasses across it. Turquoise, pinks, yellows, green, black, and ochre: colors abound, repeating and recombining to create a different light across the topography of the painting. The painting, like others included in the exhibition, defies expectations of what might sit next to what pictorially as so many dissimilar parts stay in dynamic relation to each other, actually begins to render with each viewing a seemingly changed composition. Several works on paper, for example, Untitled (1996), offer a more atomized version of the same approach: the paper works are also mixed media, including foam cut into shapes, but this time, the shapes are less armature-like and are integrated by being overrun by dappled and streaked high-key color. They, like the canvases, generate radiant light—energy, uncontained and moving outward, like that of sound.

Larry Poons, Untitled, 1996. Acrylic and mixed media on paper, 12 x 18 inches. Courtesy Larry Poons and Yares Art. Photo: Jason Mandella Photography.

“I am just a conduit between the paint and the canvas,” Poons has said modestly, and one thinks accurately, too, recalling Igor Stravinsky’s famous statement about The Rite Of Spring (1913) that, “I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed.” These paintings are certainly extraordinary and highly accomplished works from an artist who continues to this day to change whilst also remaining consistent in following the paintings’ demands; meeting the challenges of those demands with honesty, subtlety and vigor.


David Rhodes

David Rhodes is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues