By Kuspil, Donald
Artforum International , Vol. 50, No. 7
When art historian Lloyd Goodrich observed in 1965 that Edwin Dickinson "does not fit into any neat classification," he could have been comparing the paintings Frances Foley, 1927, and Frances Blazer, 1 937--both of which were on view at the artist's recent show at Babcock Galleries. The first represents Dickinson's young wife in a Romantic realist style, her facial features crisply delineated; in the second, her visage is a pure abstraction. On the cusp of the new, yet devoted to the old, Dickinson was a student of academic realist Charles Hawthorne, yet he nonetheless appeared--along with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, William Baziotes, and Clyfford Still, among others--in the 1952 "15 Americans" exhibition curated by Dorothy Miller at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Dickinson acknowledged the profound influence of El Greco's Burial of Count Orgaz, 1586. That painting is rife with contrasts: Portraying a heavenly scene at once connected to and disconnected from the death scene below it, it is populated with elongated, abstracted bodies topped with realistic heads and is marked by juxtapositions of relentless blacks and somber grays with radiant whites and brittle pinks. There's a similar sense of density and deniaterialization in Dickinson's paintings, the same Mannerist--and Surrealist--sense of absurdity. Perhaps the Abstract Expressionists respected him because they saw the same Surrealist Mannerism in their own bizarre paintings.
Dickinson combined descriptive realism and painterly extravagance, indicating he was as attentive to external reality as he was to his feelings. …