In an interview with art historian Irving Sandler in the April number of the Brooklyn Rail, Roberta Smith avers that her favorite art remains "the traditionally two-dimensional, painting and photography." Considering her assiduous attention over the years to performance and video art, Ms. Smith's sentiment may seem surprising, even conservative, but I would take her one step further and re-declare my love of paint.
I love it peeling from the walls in the railroad yard, splashed freshly on a basement wall, but most of all I love it on the kind of paintings exhibited in Alex Katz' strong new show at PaceWildenstein's 22nd Street emporium or at Che Lovelace's current exhibition at the Half Gallery in Loisaida. These are two supple, sinewy men, Katz the jogger, fitter than ever at 80, Lovelace, the 40-something surfer from Trinidad, where, among other things, he runs a cultural center with his friend Peter Doig.
Both men apply the paint sparingly, but with thematic abandon. They live their creative lives at the end of each brushstroke. Maine sunsets dominate Katz' new landscapes. His bushy black tree limbs seem so alive, as if they were about to transform into ravens. Blue horizons melt into pumpkin colored skies.
For Katz the twilight of life is an ambiguous vista that still pulsates with possibility and light. What dims at dusk is more alluring than the noonday sun because of its imminent demise. His paint is applied with a controlled abandon projected by the pleasure of being alive.
Che Lovelace, too, embraces the evanescent. His themes and colors are drawn from Carnival, and his strongest, strangest figures are black men who disguise their faces in white mud or dress up in frills and headdresses as blue devils. In their celebratory way, these dancers channel the colors of the sky which inspire Alex Katz.
We are surrounded by artificiality in the postmodern world, a surfeit of images and information driving us blind. Is it a surprise that paint remains to restore our sight and balance our lives, giving us room to imagine again and revel in life? For Katz and Lovelace, the brush remains the torch of life and we are blessed to dance before that fire, never extinguished, never to end.
Alex Katz, Apr. 24-June 13, 2009, at PaceWildenstein, 545 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Che Lovelace, Apr. 9-May 14, 2009, at Half Gallery, 208 Forsyth Street, New York, N.Y. 10002
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).