New Wave Painting

(Originally published in Art New England, Volume 3 Number 7, June 1982.)

One of the more absorbing forms that recent painting has taken works in the same way that New Wave music does. It is angry, ugly, funny, and blunt. It jostles us. Everything jangles and clashes. Nothing is very clear or very clean. It stands in opposition to what is slick, sleek, and smooth. Its milled insincerity shows up the vicious side of the banal. The anger that moves it cannot fix on any object but strikes out at random, like a terrorist, at what slides by on grease into its field of vision.

False masks of plastic beauty are among its moving targets. Desperate to survive the glissando of the word processor and the deadly lull of ordinary life, it rips to pieces the world’s fabric and its skin and puts it back together, obsessively recreating from scraps and scrawls and marks and images the objects of its desire and its rage.

Constructions leap off the wall at us.  They are paintings that have become sculptural because the picture plane could not contain them.  They are made from urban debris —  pieces of canvas, paper, and wood in jagged shapes, dissonant, abrasive colors, and dots, dashes, splashes, and slashes of paint.  The painted mark seems both random and absolute — like casual scrawls on a wall and at the same time the gestures of high abstraction.

New Wave painting neither describes nor explains anything; instead, it yearns toward images.  New Wave painters paint in fast, flashy strokes, with a raging intensity that the act of painting inflames rather than cools, and that might in itself be a pose. The work is more than complicated — it is impenetrable.  Like the images of war-torn Beirut in
Volker Schlöndorff‘s film Circle of Deceit, it contains ruins, some in flames.

This kind of painting seems to seek a reconciliation of rage and longing in a spoiled and dangerous world. Rage tears, breaks, pulls apart the world; longing recomposes. The visible world never recovers its own destruction. Whatever truth survives the wreck is ravaged, damaged, imperfect, not quite whole.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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