The New York Optimist
January 2009
January 15, 2009 Chelsea Gallery Art Crawl Review

by
Stephan Fowlkes



Maybe I am getting desensitized by the sheer abundance of art being hurled at the viewing audience by the 400+ galleries in Chelsea.  I won’t
go so far as to say quantity over quality, as there is still much work shown with great merit.  The tricky part is weeding out  the exceptional
from the rest.  When being constantly bombarded by visual stimulus gallery after gallery, it is easy to get overwhelmed...sometimes to the
point where what the gallery is serving to drink becomes more important than what’s on the wall.

It has been shown that the collective’s attention span is growing shorter and shorter; information is being condensed and delivered at lightning-
quick speeds, everything is being abbreviated to pack even more in less--just ask my BFF.  

And in this anything-goes climate in the art world, you can be presented with works that reference Ab-Ex tendencies, minimalist works,
conceptual works, figurative work, piles of garbage-as-art, endless variety of video and new media, traditional and innovative, cutting-edge
work, monochromatic paintings, Op-Art, assemblage, appropriation, and even some stuff you don’t quite know how to approach; and this is
all just in the span of two hours.  It can certainly be overwhelming to say the least.  And as a result, we are left to digest this spectrum of
visual fodder with no underlying theme or connection between the disparate styles and genres, and to somehow make sense of it all.  The
result is less than ideal in my opinion: we give less time and attention to the work before us in anticipation of what is next.  Gone seems to be
the day when a viewer will stand in front of a captivating work for fifteen minutes, simply looking, pondering, investigating, meditating,
basking in the beauty or mystery of a piece.  I know I am guilty of this...even in my writing where I may review up to five shows I enjoyed
any given week, but with no underlying connection tying them together other than my personal taste. And even these observations and
reviews are superficial, based merely on what I was able to glean in the 5-15 minutes I spent in any given gallery.

So this week, I will forgo my usual format, and will focus on a single show, not for lack of shows to review, but simply to slow down, to
focus, investigate and ponder...to give the artist and his work due attention and respect.  This show serves well as a case-in-point; when I
first walked in to Paul Kasmin, I was quick to dismiss the large canvases on the wall by James Nares.  The first impression I got was that
these canvases simply had a single large brush stroke as the entire composition.  Upon closer inspection, the finish led me and my cohorts to
believe the works were mechanical enlargements of a far smaller brush stroke.  This is where a little investigation paid off in great dividends:
our impressions were on the mark.  In fact, these canvases literally are a single brush stroke on a solid ground.  But this is not to say that
Nares can produce a hundred of these a day...quite the contrary.

An Englishman who moved to New York City in the early seventies, James Nares is a painter, a filmmaker, performer and a musician.  When
he focused on painting, his investigations led him toward simplicity; he sought to strip away all but the essentials of painting: the surface, the
medium, the application--ultimately, the brush stroke, the foundation of painting.  So the brush stroke became his subject matter.  He was
fascinated with the physics of it all...the viscosity of the ink or paint, the properties of the brush and the surface.  He quickly found that to
make a really large version of a brush stroke, it wasn’t simply getting a really big brush that would produce the same effect as a small brush.  
The properties of bristles work differently on different scales, so this led him to start building brushes of his own design.  He studied
traditional brush building, the various synthetic and natural bristles and their properties, and adapted these skills to suit his needs.  
Furthermore, what could be done on a small canvas vertically wouldn’t automatically translate to large-scale, as the paint in larger quantity
would drip, eliminating the gravity-free sense a small brush stroke can produce (physics and viscosity), so he had to paint the large brush
strokes on a horizontal canvas.  But with such large canvases, he could no longer maneuver over the whole surface to affect a single brush
stroke.  So out of necessity, he built a suspension system that allowed him to float above the canvas, so that he could glide over the entire
surface in one fluid motion, painting the single brush stroke.

But this is not the end.  Nares didn’t simply paint brush stroke after brush stroke and call them done.  He was very particular about each
stroke; they had to embody the essence of a brush stroke.  There had to be a sort of accidental perfection, and this only came about out of
sheer repetition, patience and circumstance, much like a photographer who can take hundreds of shots of the same scene, but only one will
capture the light, the action and emotion just right.  So it goes with Nares.  The finished pieces we see are the result of anywhere between 50
and 300 attempts.  If he doesn’t like a stroke, it is squeegeed off and he tries again, over and over, until one satisfies his very exacting
standards.  On occasion, the first may be the one, but this is exceedingly rare.  

To give a sense of scale, “Requiem” measures 48” x 192” and “There’s A Place In China” measures 120” x 70”, both painted in 2009.  There
is something very sensual to these works: the fluidity of line and movement, the luminosity and richness of his materials and the surface.  
There is something ghost-like in their translucence, something calligraphic referential of Eastern brush and ink paintings, an ethereality  akin to
a wisp of smoke, something very Zen about the whole mood they evoke.

These days, it is not rare to hear someone say in a gallery “I could paint that, why is that art?”, and sometimes they may be right, but more
often than not, what comes across as simple or simplisitc is the result of vigorous investigation, and years of experience leading up to the
point where what we see is the culmination of an exploration we can never fathom.  Color-field artists, for example, didn’t wake up one day
and say “gee, I think I’m going to paint a canvas entirely the same color and call it done.  Years of personal development leads to the point
where doing so is the best way to express something they have been wrestling with, often for years.  Most color-field artists had rigorous
formal training, and a career that grew and developed step by step, a personal voice that emerged and developed, and an evolution that led, not
by chance, to a monochromatic painting.  It is easy to knock something when you are uninformed, but take the time to learn and understand,
and you may be amazed what lies just below the surface.  But to be fair, sometimes there is work that, no matter how it is explained or
justified, still fails.  This certainly is NOT the case with the paintings of James Nares.

Take the time to stop by the Paul Kasmin Gallery and patiently look at these works; follow the brush stroke, imagine Nare’s body gliding
through space effecting these strokes, perfectly balancing control and chance.


James Nares at paul Kasmin Gallery
293 Tenth Avenue
January 15-February 21, 2009
Survival of the Luckiest, Oil on canvas
Where I'm Going, 2008
oil on linen
27 3/4 x 92 1/2 inches
Said and Done,
2006
oil on linen
72 x 72 inches
Untitled, 2007
oil on paper
James Nares at paul Kasmin Gallery
293 Tenth Avenue
January 15-February 21, 2009