The Later Paintings
of Norman Bluhm
The paintings of Norman Bluhm, done between February and November 1971, retain their characteristic appearance of velocity, enacted by giant brushstrokes and the splatter of paint and symbolized formally in twisting wave forms. There is both the image of liquidity and the evidence of it. The conspicuous paint relates to Bluhm's strongly gestural earlier paintings, but in fact the new works are different. His painterly means are now used in the construction of imagery, not in the release of motor power. Take a representative picture like Arethusa (he is using nymphs' names for titles at the moment; another time it was fabled swords). In scale it is close to his earlier pieces, 8 feet high, but the surface is more full and solid. The characteristic Bluhm brushstrokes, that start with a lunge in ripe paint and end in a dry skid, are present but the picture plane is strengthened.
Gesture has been solidified into form as can be seen by comparing the tapering forms in the upper half of Arethusa with the openly brushed handling of comparable forms in the earlier work. In the new painting the directional thrust of the brushwork has been reduced and the color expanded into the whole form. The image of a spiral, whether contracted to a central zone or orbited out towards the edges of the canvas, is constant in the new pictures. Its solid surface overlaps other forms to produce a layered, recessive space, though one in which most of the major planes are parallel to the picture plane.
Color in the new paintings is related to whole forms, not to parts of forms or to the picture plane conceived as an abstraction. Since each disc, loop, clover leaf, knot and helix is highly individuated there is a strong sense that these are colors of and not pure color. Without adopting a specific imagery Bluhm is producing a complex relation of form____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Topics in American Art since 1945. Contributors: Lawrence Alloway - Author. Publisher: W. W. Norton. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1975. Page number: 111.
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