Olitski at Knoedler
Post #1140 • March 13, 2008, 12:51 PM • 18 Comments
New York - We caught the last day of the Olitski show at Knoedler on a brisk day in January, and firey canvases greeted us there, burning with a strange heat.
That strangeness has occupied my thoughts about Jules Olitski. Some people associate modernism with a kind of autocratic rationalism, one that precludes consideration of natural processes, chaos, and intuition. These paintings evince an embrace of such things. He saw, with the kind of certainty that comes from a six-decade career, that he could bring a composition into being with the barest elements: a circular foreground splotch, a wobbly stretch of something or other in the middleground, and a reiteration of the rectangle at the edge. You need more than to merely know this to pull it off, though - you have to know it biblically.
He didn't just paint - he owned painting, or at least a handsome property on the real estate of creative understanding. His core knowledge of the workings of painting revealed to him that within a few flexible constraints, he could get as weird as he wanted to get. And he did. The surfaces crackle with garish hues and brittle textures. By combining them he achieved a vibratory excitement that recalls violent cosmic events. They look strange, because they grind decorum underfoot. They could only have come from someone who had accepted unforseen possibility as a natural state. He poured paint, sprayed it, glopped it on, brushed it, blew it around with a leaf blower, and generally made a happy mess. And yet he elevated that mess into art, some of the best art we have.