David Novros: Paintings
On ViewJudd Foundation
David Novros – Paintings
September 30–December 18, 2022
The first floor of the Judd Foundation is a long rectangular room with a very high ceiling, and on two sides, windows that open onto the street. On entering the space from Mercer Street, the two David Novros paintings presented are on the facingwall—the first, indirectly across from the entrance door, Untitled (Graham Studio Mural II), (2006), the second, seen obliquely and further along this same wall, Boathouse (2016). Both are large scale paintings that function like murals. Novros has described his paintings as “portable murals,” and it is easy to understand what he means here. The two paintings are very different and represent contrasting approaches to Novros’s “painted places,” a room plus a painting, or paintings. Neither work offers a view onto another place or any image for passive consumption. One feels the necessity to move in order to experience the paintings, rather than standing still and gazing from a fixed perspective. It is interesting to remember that on the second floor of the Foundation is a fresco made by Novros at the invitation of Donald Judd in 1970.
In the case of Untitled (Graham Studio Mural II), a painting that was installed at the sculptor Robert Graham’s studio, and that Novros retrieved when the studio was sold after the death of his friend, the portable mural aspect is not only in the size and facture of the work but also evident in the several inches of unpainted canvas that remains between the painted compositions edge and the physical edge of the canvas support itself. This border zone between the painted area—wider at either vertical side, thus making these areas rectangles, and so also active in the composition—and the support’s edge crucially enables the unpainted area to function as wall, as a continuation of the painting plane, like a fresco or mural. That is, the painted area’s internal borders—those where colored rectangular shapes meet—are the same as the perimeter of the painted composition. It would feel different if the composition reached the physical edge of the support—and so also marking a physical edge, or limit—after which would be the different surface of the surrounding wall.
The application of acrylic paint is thin, stained into the canvas surface. The rectangular sections of the composition have been marked out with a pencil and this is left visible. Close toned transitions of warm and cool color—pink, ochre, green, blues, red—bleed slightly from one adjacent shape to another. The color breathes within rectangular configurations that subtly play with repetition and scale. It is not possible to exhaust the complexity and pleasure of this visuality and its particular relation to touch, the surface is not only optical, but present—haptic.
Boathouse was made as an “evocation” of a mural cycle by Novros that no longer exists, at a lakeside site in Middleburgh, New York. This is the larger painting here at approximately 11 by 20 feet, and it comprises seven panels, four of which enclose the other three, with space between the panels becoming integrated within the overall rectangular composition. Oil and murano, a pearlescent commercial paint, are used—a dark blue, white, and orange together with several earth colors—sit more aggressively and the color contrasts tonally, the composition faster and disjunctive in comparison to Untitled (Graham Studio Mural II). The three inner rectangular panels, bounded with an orange border, are contained by vertical rectangles with L-shaped sections that visually echo the surrounding panels. Altogether, architectural features are recalled and a connection between the painting and the room is activated. This is what is at stake. Moving among the paintings the gallery becomes an active environment, like a chapel with frescoes. Or, like a studio, such as Matisse’s in Nice, where he placed wall-sized cut-outs throughout the rooms. This is how paintings can be. Think of the Alhambra in Granada, or the mosaic interiors of Ravenna, the frescoed walls of the Scrovegni chapel in Padua, or the Rothko Chapel in Houston. All of these sites are important to Novros, and his achievement is to continue this possibility of a “painted place” in his own work, as painting, as a poetry of indeterminate, contingent, but profound meaning.