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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 20-JAN 21

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DEC 20-JAN 21 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

32. (A six-story building on Cooper Square)

The year this painter and his wife, who is also a painter, move into their Cooper Square loft, he is hired by an art school in Philadelphia. Unwilling to leave New York, he spends part of the week teaching in Philadelphia and the rest of his time painting in his studio. He realizes early on that it is going to take him a long time to get his work to where he wants it to be. For the next 25 years he continues to travel back and forth between the two cities, steadily working in his studio, experimenting, struggling, discovering. During these two-plus decades, he almost never exhibits his work, even as his contemporaries and friends launch their careers and receive critical attention and financial rewards. It’s not easy to watch their growing success as year after year he continues his slow, unseen progress, if that’s in fact what it is. Knowing that racism is a factor in his lack of attention—he is black at a time when New York galleries rarely show black artists—doesn’t help his situation, but his daily conversations about painting with his wife help provide the support he needs to keep going. It’s only when he is in his late 40s that he at last achieves the breakthrough he has been seeking for so long. Taking his cues from the architecture of Rome and ancient Egypt, and the distinctly handmade, improvisational qualities of West African art, he begins to structure his abstract oil paintings as grids of loosely stacked blocks of color. Rather than agonize over color choices and painting technique, he simply tries “not to let anything get in the way of anything else.” Suddenly, each canvas with its four rows of declarative color units perched on casually drawn shelf-like lines becomes an indescribably rich field of paintings within paintings, of formal rhythms and rhymes, of spatial vitality, of palpable, visual joy. His wager on himself and his patience with his art have paid off.

(Stanley Whitney, Marina Adams)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 20-JAN 21

All Issues