Contributed by Sharon Butler / In the 1960s, Jack Tworkov began to feel as if he had taken Ab-Ex gestural abstraction as far as it could go without repeating himself. Reluctant to keep making paintings in which the once wild and expressive brushstroke would appear a predictable go-to move determined more by experience rather than experimentation, Tworkov began thinking about the relationship between spontaneity and discipline. Could these features be combined in a new approach to painting? By turning the process around and creating a geometric framework that was by design predictive, Tworkov was able to re-imagine, and in the process reinvigorate, the expressive brushstroke. His investigation began with a series of drawings, some of which are on view at Minus Space through May 1. The series of large-scale geometric abstractions that his rigorous investigation ultimately yielded are on view at Van Doren Waxter through March 20.
To put Tworkov’s practice into context, by the mid-1960s, Abstract Expressionist action painting had become a cliché. Young artists like Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, and Sol Lewitt had made geometric form the focus of their reductive art practices. This shift suited the anti-illusionist, pro-realist theories of minimalists like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. It certainly intrigued Tworkov, who integrated geometric form with expressive touch and mark making. His paintings from the 1970s thus constitute a bridge from the old Ab-Exers to the emerging Minimalists.
Each painting in the exhibition is based on a small drawing that teases out ideas about geometry. Tworkov would start a painting by laying down ruled lines, dividing the canvas into geometric shapes– rectangles, parallelograms, and triangles. As he began adding color with hundreds of small primarily vertical marks, the shapes seemed to turn into three-dimensional forms, mainly cubes or boxes. The color shifts are subtle, like a progression of musical notes on a scale. Contrasts between light and dark, warm and cool, are all it takes to turn a flat geometric drawing into an illusion of a fuller sculptural form. Sometimes the canvases, such as P73 #10 (1973), contain the entire form, claustrophobically shoe-horned into the picture plane. In others, like Q3-74 #1 (Provincetown) from 1974, the forms seem truncated, as if they continue beyond the canvas. But as the viewer looks closely at the painting, those forms seem to shift. What was once outside appears to be inside, what was foreground becomes background.
The biggest revelation of all, however, does not consist of drawing tricks and perceptual shifts. Tworkov demonstrates compellingly that spontaneity and discipline could indeed be combined on one canvas. He also shows that Minimalism’s conceptual approaches do not necessarily bleed painting of emotional content. His meticulous brushwork, nuanced combination of tertiary and pastel colors, and exquisite sense of touch coalesce to deliver a quietly expressive experience.
“Jack Tworkov: Towards Nirvana / Works from the 70s,” Van Doren Waxter, 23 East 73rd Street, New York, NY. Through March 20, 2021.
“Jack Tworkov: Drawings from the 70s,” Minus Space, 16 Main Street, Suite A, Brooklyn, NY. through May 1, 2021.