Jim St Clair: Wrecks & Effects
Waterfront Museum, Brooklyn
How can representative landscape painting be new? Jim St Clair has chosen the seascape as his subject for the whole of his painting career and one palette made from about ten significant colors.
The waterways and backwaters of New York and its environs rendered in late afternoon colors; laid on in a thick, sticky, stodgy oil paint that evokes the slurry milling beneath the surface of the Hudson River.
It means that a St Clair is as recognizable as a Guston.
Imagine a kids cardboard kaleidoscope that when you looked into it instead of representing the world in an ever changeable Um... kaleidoscope of colors and forms did the complete opposite. Turned the world into an imperceptibly moving water and building scape of sky dinge, rust orange and water vapor veiled sap green.
Kids regularly look through cardboard tubes to view one thing in particular. But for this show you don't need one. The sense of being out there on the water is realized by the show being staged on a barge moored in the Upper New York Bay. The Waterfront Museum is next to the Fairway Market in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, the last time you can see this show is on Saturday, May 26 from 10 am until 6 pm.
But there will be some of Jim's paintings in the space for a while.
Jim has a boat, he goes out for a few hours at the end of every day. All the paintings have been made there on wooden panels for over thirty years. They are painted, propped on the side and sometimes wash about in the gunnels.
Many of the works in this show are of a stretch of water in the Bronx which is a ships graveyard. The wrecks that bob on the surface mask wrecks underneath them. Different time periods rise to the surface at different stages of decay. This moment where breakage operates as a stage for abstraction is ideal St Clair territory. The relationship between damage and abstraction had been made by artists through the use of the figure. But water traffic as a metaphor is new territory.
One particularly long painting does all the things that his work does. A dilapidated pier fills the canvas. A hive of unsteady crosses represents the broken struts of the pier. Spasmic twisted lines break up the space, leaning hopelessly. In the hands of a more literal painter the references to gestural abstraction and to the decorative signs that abstraction has co opted would be front and centre. But in Jim's paintings they are subplot. The main event is color as subject matter and how the materiality of the paint acts out the subject.
This only happens in the "language" (perhaps not the right word) of paint. It is not a literal transference of information. It is painting and it communicates itself in its own terms. It’s no semiotic trick.
"Can what I painted on this canvas be put into words? Just as the silent word can be suggested by a musical sound." Clarice Lispector, 1972
This is what makes it new. The idea that all of the parts of the painting can reflect the subject is postmodern. It separates Jim from the representative painters who want to paint only what they see. The context, the paint, the way the paint is put on and the kinds of vistas that he represents are all aligned. He’s not attempting to paint beautiful views. He wants to evoke time past. An America gone by, but not out of nostalgia but so as to use decay as a material that allows him to play figuration abstraction and mood in concert.