Permanent Collection: Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled, 1979


It’s a small work, the horizontal format measuring something like sixteen by twenty inches. A single large abstract form, offset to the left, dominates the composition. This form resembles a lean-to shanty, associations strengthened by the context: to the left, on the adjoining wall, is Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s large marquetry, Border Security, illustrating a ramshackle desert compound; to the right is Joe Overstreet’s Power Flight, the angular forms of which recall, among other things, a tent. How might this work look next to, say, a Joel Shapiro?

If architecture, this form is not the most reliable of structures: one or two corners read as bends rather than right angles that result from joining two perpendicular planes. There is a sense of torque stalled by a tilting pale yellow bar. Still, interior and exterior seem broadly clear. Warmth and saturation, bright red and that yellow, define the interior, while chalky whites and siena prevail outside. Dark pthalo-green, at times black, describes a boundary. And while the brushstrokes, prominent throughout, tend to expansive horizontality “outside,” “inside” they roil, confusedly circulating as if contained. In a lower corner of the two red shapes, this confusion evens out, marks converging to the left, like pressurized air toward a pinprick, blending with streaks of the surrounding darkness. The resulting smeary neutrality marks a liminal space, which reappears above and below the structure.

The central structure and, in a way, the painting itself seem hung on that pale yellow stripe that tilts across the red shapes. It’s the inevitable focus and the proverbial tent pole.

It’s nice to be able to see an older example of the artist’s work. I first became aware of Thomas Nozkowski in the mid-2000s, during which time he was almost always written of respectfully as one who had been around. The active marks (all seemingly made with a single round) and the atmosphere of this work seem largely to have been subsumed in his later work, while the interest in precarious balance remains. It also seems a good painting for winter.


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