Tag Archives: George Adams Gallery

Unapologetic Good Will: Roy De Forest


Roy De Forest, A Man of the Country (2003), acrylic on panel with artist’s frame, 23-1/2″ x 21″; courtesy George Adams Gallery

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The following review was originally published in the January 15, 2008 edition of The New York Observer and is posted here on the occasion of Roy De Forest; A Simple Life: Small Scale Paintings from 2000-2003 at George Adams Gallery (until February 9).

Generosity of spirit and joyous excess are the hallmarks of Roy De Forest’s blissfully excessive art, the subject of a memorial exhibition at George Adams Gallery. (De Forest died last spring at the age of 77.) His paintings, drawings and sculptures were often classified as “California Funk,” a description foisted upon a group of West Coast artists who treated tradition with cheery disregard. No highfalutin intentions, please, we’re Californians.

De Forest wasn’t ignored by the Manhattan art scene, as numerous exhibitions by dealer Allan Frumkin attest. Nor did the artist turn a blind eye to the New York School: Its compositional strategies filter into De Forest’s kaleidoscopic arrays of cowboys, dogs and relentless ornamentation. Yet never would you have caught self-important standard-bearers of high art—Robert Motherwell, say, or Clyfford Still—indulging in such goofball fantasies.


Roy De Forest, A Bird in Hand (1965), acrylic on canvas, 72″ x 60″; courtesy George Adams Gallery

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The thing is, De Forest’s paintings aren’t fantasies; they’re real. An artist’s responsibility is to create a fiction we can enter, experience and believe in. How convincingly it’s realized and how much the artist yields to its logic determines its aesthetic viability. The inside-out, every-which-way cosmos De Forest brought to life sprawls like a topographical map and bustles like the No. 6 train at rush hour. There’s not an inch of canvas unaccounted for. Forget horror vacui: De Forest’s all-over and exaggerated pointillism, characterized by blips of acrylic squeezed directly from the tube, aren’t obsessive; they’re a celebration of life’s bounty.

The rough-hewn vigor of American folk art informs the paintings, as does the unmediated nature of children’s art. But De Forest’s sophistication precluded sentimentality—the strong coloration, surprising and intricate narratives and general air of ecstasy recall non-Western art, particularly Himalayan painting.

The flattened, topsy-turvy landscape in Silas Newcastle Goes Down (1966) has a hallucinogenic fervor that upsets its symmetrical composition. Black Horse Meadow (2004-2005), with its drowsy haze of soft yellows, is as quaint and warm as the wallpaper in grandma’s living room.

De Forest got cute with his handmade frames—kitschy self-consciousness didn’t suit him—and the drawings are too wispy to invigorate their rolling landscapes and clustered doodles. But the paintings offer glittering proof that happiness, optimism and unapologetic good will are their own reward—and ours.

© 2008 Mario Naves

Andrew Lenaghan at George Adams Gallery

Andrew Lenaghan, New Stadium, Atlantic Avenue (2011), oil on panel, 24″ x 32″; courtesy George Adams Gallery

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While looking at Andrew Lenaghan’s paintings at George Adams Gallery, I overhead a visitor exclaim, “New York has never looked so lovely.”

Really? There’s much to commend in the work, not least its crisp light and keen sense of place. But “lovely”? That’s such a mild adjective for pictures whose verisimilitude is inseparable from a pointed and, at moments, bristly animism.

Lenaghan has long been drawn to areas of Brooklyn that, when not mundane, are distinctly unlovely—a graffiti-laden building in Greenpoint, anonymous industrial structures in Williamsburg and the stained and mottled roadway bordering the Bedford Avenue Armory. Family is also a mainstay—in one painting, children watch Dora the Explorer; in another, a woman stands by the mirror in an unkempt bedroom. Geometry, as it informs the city’s infrastructure, our homes and backyards, is important, too.

Andrew Lenaghan, Sarah and Charlie Upstairs (2011), oil on panel, 24″ x 32″; courtesy George Adams Gallery

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In their details, the picturesque and domestic are rendered with a skittering line that accumulates—sometimes tenuously, always convincingly—into solid form. The cobblestone walkway at the bottom right of New Stadium, Atlantic Avenue (2011) is a particularly telling marker of Lenaghan’s pictorial abilities; the way in which arrant mark-making and fidelity to observation are navigated is emblematic of his bracing and flinty intellect.

© 2012 Mario Naves

Originally published in the February 8, 2012 edition of City Arts.

James Barsness at George Adams Gallery

James Barsness, The Temptation of St. Anthony (2010), acrylic and gold leaf on paper mounted on canvas, 11-3/4″ x 10-1/4″; courtesy George Adams Gallery

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On a recent class trip to The Cloisters, not a few of my students found themselves transfixed by The Master of Belmonte’s Saint Michael, a painting from 15th-century Spain. They were especially taken with the creature on which the title figure stands: the Anti-Christ, a slithering mélange of faces, fauna and rotting flesh. This over-the-top visage gave these burgeoning artists pause. The readership of Juxtapoz would love this painting (I was told), even as it was admitted that The Master of Belmonte’s demon was more convincing than any tattoo seen in recent memory. Why, they wondered, was that?

A similar question nags at the work of James Barsness, whose recent collaged-and-painted pictures are on view at George Adams Gallery. Why don’t his jumbles of Biblical portent, Boschian grotesquery and ornamental excess make good on their sources? Barsness is clearly conversant with art history and just as clearly a card. He’s a 21st-century artist, after all. Who’s to blame him for taking equal inspiration from Warner Brothers cartoons and the underground artist S. Clay Wilson?

Would that the resulting images were as elastic as Daffy Duck, as icky as Wilson’s unseemly preoccupations or as convincing as either. Barsness’ work never transcends its stylistic and material variousness; pastichery it remains. Pictorial tics gleaned from illuminated manuscripts, graffiti, Himalayan icons, Duccio and Spanish comic books (slapdash accumulations of which serve as grounds upon which Barsness’ figures are splayed) are paraded about, but not endowed with life.

Fraught subjects like The Temptation of St. Anthony, The Temptation of Jesus In The Desert and, um, Lady With The Pill Box Hat don’t rise above the status of learned goofs. If Barsness’ work proves anything, it’s that enthusiasm isn’t the same thing as faith—which goes some way toward explaining why he remains in the shadow of The Master of Belmonte.

© 2011 Mario Naves

Originally published in the May 4, 2011 edition of City Arts.

William Wiley & Roy DeForest at George Adams Gallery

William Wiley, Portrait of Bah! (1971), watercolor and ink on paper with mixed media constructions, 11-1/2″ x 23-1/2″; courtesy George Adams Gallery

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My response to the work of the Bay Area artist William T. Wiley has always been tepid, but in a curious, unnamable way. I don’t dislike his art. When looking at one of Mr. Wiley’s elaborate mixed-media pictures, I’m amused by its dry and sly fusion of the mythological, the hermetic and the down-home. There’s a lot to see in one of his paintings, as well as things to appreciate. The trouble is, I never find myself in front of Mr. Wiley’s art willingly–I stumble upon it on the way to something else.

Thanks to A Slow Time in Arcadia, an exhibition at the George Adams Gallery that pairs Mr. Wiley with fellow San Franciscan Roy DeForest, I now understand my indifference. At the bottom of one of his canvases, Mr. Wiley has written his credo: “P.S. I’d rather be laid back-than layed [sic] up or down.” It’s not that I prefer art that’s uptight; it’s that I prefer art that gets up and goes. Mr. Wiley’s art just sits there, satisfied with its own reclusive self. Even when he makes a funny priapic effigy from a stick, some wire, a provocatively bent section of garden hose and an alarmingly grungy sock, Mr. Wiley does so with a casual disregard-as if he couldn’t care less whether anyone ever saw the thing.

The same is true of Mr. DeForest. I’m sad to say so, particularly because in the past I’ve enjoyed his cartoonish panoramas of dogs, deities and pinched dabs of acrylic paint. Is Mr. Wiley dragging Mr. DeForest down? The issue may be geographical. It was the conceptual artist John Baldessari, if I recall correctly, who defined the difference between the East Coast artist and the West Coast artist: The former worries about how his art fits into history, while the latter worries about how his art fits into his car.

I’m not about to engage in California bashing-not when one of my favorite painters, Richard Diebenkorn, is a son of the state, but a good-natured isolation may be the source of the laxity Mr. Wiley and Mr. DeForest share. I still hold out hope for the latter. Mr. DeForest’s Nevada (2002), a kitschy and cutesy mixed-media wall sculpture, is sardonic enough to make me believe that there’s more oomph to the oeuvre than is currently on display.

© 2002 Mario Naves

Originally published in the August 18, 2002 edition of The New York Observer.