“I like paintings that balance contradictions. I like paintings that look clear and simple at first glance and then sort of crumble under your gaze,” says painter, Thomas Nozkowski, the American painter whose work over the past several decades has spanned a range of styles and techniques, approaches and modes of seeing throughout his career. “And it’s even better if further looking enables you to put it together again, understand it in a new way.” Such modes of seeing and making pictures is presented this month at Pace Gallery in New York, running throughout the artist’s 50+ year career as a striking, and refreshing survey of his practice.
Nozkowski’s approach to line and form is explored throughout the show through a single framework, that of the 16″ X 20″ by canvas that also serves as the exhibition’s title. Continually revisiting the same size throughout the course of his career, Nozkowski’s work is reflected through a particular mode of practice, one that distills his practice down to the decisions made in a distinctly small space. The artist is a master of decisive movements, bringing bold, single strokes of color to bear on the surface of each work, ultimately rendering new forms from looping, swirling forms.
While abstract in style, each of Nozkowski’s paintings is rooted in a specific experience, event or place that the artist has encountered. As his practice has evolved from a concentration on biomorphic and geometric shapes to a more recent use of patterns and broken grids, Nozkowski has repeatedly used the 16 x 20-inch format to explore these complex and varied concerns, a technique that serves as much as a focused emphasis on space and movement as a critique of the often monumental scale of many of the painter’s contemporaries during the heyday of abstract expressionism, and the movements following. One can follow Nozkowski’s work in this small-scale as one equally committed to economy and expression in equal measure, seeking to express the most expansive and powerful degrees of energy and life with the space given.
This sense of economy ultimately calls up works committed to single contrasts, to distinct points and decisive movements that have more to do with a reaction against the canvas than with the framing of the canvas as a boundless container of painterly energy. Pushing against the tenants of much of early abstraction, Nozkowski’s work offered different avenues forward, and continues to inspire today.
The artists work is on view through today, February 15th.
— D. Creahan
Thomas Nozkowski: “16 x 20” [Pace Gallery]