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james dalglish: infinite harvest
by Leslie Stuart Curtis
The All-American Pumpkin Patch
Levitating Morphoglyph 1
Yellow and Green/Van Gogh's Dream
The Door That Gets The Most Light Is Black And White
Fire and Ice
By now, the plaint has been heard 'round the art world: "Only three painters included at Documenta X!" If painting isn't dead, perhaps it should commit suicide! But just as we brace ourselves for an art world without painting's special kind of visual pleasure, along comes a show of new work by Jamie Dalglish. Its appearance at the Hugo de Pagano Gallery, located in Betty Parson's old space on West 57th Street, suggests that the spirit of the New York School may have finally been reincarnated in a new generation.
Dalglish describes these paintings as "morphoglyphs" that "provide painting with a surface that seems to say, Art is the Art of becoming Art." In his work Dalglish extends the Abstract Expressionist way of making paintings as he refers to its motifs -- from the long, vertical orange Newmanesque "zip" in Glacial Mark to the rich blues and greens, reminiscent of Sam Francis, in Pines.
Dalglish has found a number of reasons to be happy about painting -- mark-making, spontaneity and even the critical dialogue that once centered around such activities. This work forms a nexus between continuation of tradition and a glimpse at what painting might be like in the next millennium. John Ash once said that Dalglish might be seen as one of "the last of the heroic American abstractionists" or, alternatively, "the first of an entirely new mystico-televisual breed."
Dalglish applies paint variously, by throwing it with a stick, using a squeegee or brushes, or by means of a wire mesh dipped in the pigment. Frequently he scrapes the paint down to reveal the wood surface underneath. In his earlier "Poltergeists" series, Dalglish mirrored his acrylic markings on wood with parallel strips of Polaroid snapshots. The artist sees these frozen gestures as being reminiscent of "freeze frames" from his earlier video work. He has exhibited paintings with edges cut like the sprocket holes of film strips, suggesting that the movement in these works is analogous to concepts about how many frames per second it takes to create the illusion of movement in the cinema.
But Dalglish's working method is innovative on another level, for his approach to the support for painting is as revolutionary as Pollock's decision to paint on unstretched canvas on the floor. The works in this show are all made with acrylic on long, vertical, birch plywood panels. Thus, the energy that is captured by the paint plays against the solid structure of the wooden supports. Each of the vertical sections hangs onto "cleats" cut into a horizontal, wooden bar attached to the gallery wall. This system allows the vertical panels to be rearranged, so that the sense of flux is embedded not just in the paint application, but inherent in the flexibility of the support. This means the paintings are built around infinitely expandable units, and that they can be rearranged in a variety of ways.
During a visit to the artist's studio on New Year's Day, 1995, I remember following the changing patterns and rhythms of these panels as Dalglish gracefully presented a retrospective of his efforts to the accompaniment of the painter and guitarist David Anderson. For while his studio practice links the artist to action painting, Dalglish works from an impulse that begins with African and Caribbean rhythms of David Byrne or the dance music of the Tom Tom Club. In fact, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth are among the collectors of the artist's work.
Dalglish's show revealed the bountiful harvest of his many years as veteran of the New York art scene. While viewing these works I experienced a transcendental shudder that reminded me of the crisp air of autumnal winds, and in the changing gestural patterns presented there I discovered a visual experience every bit as rich as seen in the leafy displays of the glorious fall season.
It is no accident that one of the most profoundly moving paintings in this exhibition is the very large (96 x 192 in.) Great American Pumpkin Patch. With thin acrylic layers of harmonic greens, blues and browns placed on perfectly proportioned panels, the vertical rhythms hold in check the subtle but explosive bursts of orange that peek out through the potent patterns of energy. This work fills up the viewer's field of vision in a way that only a few of the very best Pollocks can, with a promise of infinite expandability that enhances the transcendental effect and puts us in touch with the sublime.
Jamie Dalglish, New Paintings, Oct. 28-Nov. 26, 1997, at Hugo de Pagano Gallery, 24 W. 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.
LESLIE STEWART CURTIS is art critic living in Cleveland.