March 20, 2008

The complex privacy of James Bishop

James Bishop's relatively rare drawings and paintings—which American poet and art critic John Ashbery once called “part air, part architecture”—combine European and American traditions of postwar art are on view at the Art Institute of Chcago. His approach is marked by a poetic, reductionist tendency in which he creates form through color alone. Inflected by subtle shading relationships and a geometry that abandons the hard-edge abstraction used by many of his contemporaries, his work is grounded in the physical process of painting and in the interplay of color. In the Chicago Tribune, Alan G. Artner reports that Bishop, 80, who has lived in France since 1958, was a member of the quieter branch of Abstract Expressionists. "That is evident from the forms and treatment of the earliest piece on view, as well as the decision made decades later to abandon the large size of his works on canvas in favor of paintings on paper sometimes smaller than a playing card. The process that originally went from elemental preparatory drawing to highly finished canvas he seemed to reverse with an art of intimate utterance and tentative expression....The smaller work on paper creates a new atmosphere of complex privacy, as if the artist were singing softly under his breath of things in art history that the public might or might not grasp but were of intense interest to him. Here the cleanness of the work on canvas gives way to a shagginess that prizes the finish of single pieces less highly than rough extended series in which the twists and turns of pictorial thought can be fully worked out." Read more.

"James Bishop: Paintings on Paper 1959-2007," organized at the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, and Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, Germany. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Through May 4.

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