Lumpish, Monumental and Endearing: The Art of Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian, Dawn Thief , oil on wood, 18 x 18″; courtesy Bravin Lee Programs

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The following article originally appeared in the May 5, 2010 edition of City Arts. It is posted here on the occasion of Douglas Florian; Dawn Thieves at Bravin Lee Programs (until May 5).

You don’t need to know about Douglas Florian’s accomplishments as a poet and children’s book author to intuit the playful lyricism informing his works-on-paper, subject of an exhibition at BravinLee Programs in Chelsea.

In fact, a buoyant-bordering-on-goofy élan positively radiates from each page or, rather, from each paper bag. Recycling isn’t necessarily the reason Florian prefers working on this mundane material; rather, it’s the humbleness it confers upon, and elicits from, his painterly process. You can’t for a moment imagine Florian doing his thing on a virginal sheet of Arches paper. A classy support is contradictory to his loose-limbed and unassuming improvisations.

A self-proclaimed “abstract regressionist”–the work is, the artist tells us, “bottle-fed and battle-torn”–Florian creates heraldic images that simultaneously bring to mind the natural world, the Hebrew alphabet, Indian miniatures, graffiti and astronomical diagrams. Made with gouache and spare oddments of collage, the works are swiftly realized, but not always fast in final effect. For every and bye and bye, with its sweeping rush of gritty gray pigment, there are hypnotic pieces like QQ, wherein Florian channels both the cosmic and the microcellular with breathtaking economy.

Douglas Florian, Bewail and Weep (2010-2011), oil on wood, 24″ x 20″; courtesy Bravin Lee Programs

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Elsewhere, the alphabet is cut-and-cobbled, calligraphic forms are transformed into lumbering giants and errant lines spin spidery traceries of incident. Florian’s single-mindedness of purpose and wide-eyed sophistication is reminiscent of Paul Klee.

The palette tends toward earthy, but is given to flashes of exotic reds, pinks and purples, crystalline blues and encompassing yellows. The forms are lumpish in definition, monumental in scale and endearing in character. Would that the installation emphasized, rather than streamlined, each picture’s idiosyncrasies. But Florian’s wit and whimsy thrive all the same. This is a lovely and lilting exhibition.

© 2010 Mario Naves

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