Magazine article Artforum International

James Bishop

Magazine article Artforum International

James Bishop

Article excerpt

This thoughtfully selected, beautifully installed show of James Bishop's work--his first solo exhibition in New York since 1987--opened with four small paintings, all from 2012, of the sort to which the eighty-seven-year-old artist has devoted himself exclusively since 1986: compositions in oil and crayon on modest paper supports, in this case, surfaces in the vicinity of five by four and a half inches. Three rework the same basic form, a post-and-lintel structure reduced to pale, gleaming lines within a deep-blue field. As is true within many of the bodies of work produced by the artist, variation among individual paintings is subtle, encouraging close and comparative looking: Here the scaffolding is taller and narrower, there shorter and wider; here the horizontal bar overlaps the vertical supports, there the opposite is true. Each rearrangement of these few constituent elements alters the scale and luminosity of the whole. As the beholder notices that the fourth painting embeds roughly the same armature--now with darker lines--within a warm, gray ground and balances it atop a horizontal band of wiped-away paint, the shift in register is total. Bishop's painting, these works suggest, is a continually improvised art of calibration and attunement, in which the slightest displacements appear surprisingly consequent.

The preponderance of the show, which comprised eleven large paintings on canvas, testified both to the consistency of Bishop's concerns over time and to a no less marked desire to keep matters open. In the main gallery were five works made between 1967 and 1986, a period of sustained achievement instigated in part by the painter's first trip back to New York after nearly a decade in France. Aside from the slightly smaller Avant le jour (Before the Day), 1986, Bishop's final work on canvas, all are of his standard, roughly seventy-seven-inch square format, and all evince his autograph process of tilting and rocking a stretched and primed support to distribute very liquid oil paint within areas of lightly sketched geometric scaffolding. The multilayered, never-quite-monochromatic fields appear poised on the threshold between calculation and noncontrol, each a particular negotiation of that limit; meanwhile, the nonchronological installation effectively underscored the nonlinear and not obviously developmental nature of Bishop's practice. …

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