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Jacqueline Humphries


It has been the contemporary painters lot after Pollock and Rothko to find paths which lead to places not destined for despair. Humphries’s sense of irony diverts her abstractions from the “Path to the Absolute” of which Golding speaks. It is ironic that Duchamp and Johns paved the way to the critical or conceptual edge which subverts Humphries’s abstractions and rescues them from the sublime.

Jacqueline Humphries, High Noon. Oil on Linen. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.

Sharp graphite marks, which at first read like the work of an insane slasher, break a rain of paint and ironize a “Stair-like” fall of controlled drops. Marks made with tools are gravity-like, serving both to aid and relieve the finality and deliberation of the artist’s hand. The paintings still touch the spirit and the tradition of Abstract Expressionism and with equal boldness and machismo. Nonetheless, for all their bravado, the grand gestures are de-essentialized and the candy-colored paintings “raise expectations they have no intentions of fulfilling,” as Donald Kuspit puts it in a catalogue essay on Humphries’s work. This seduction is in equal part responsible for the power of the paintings; they “tease us with the possibility of unity and intelligibility.”

The musicality of the work is felt at once. A cityscape of discordant sounds, a mire of musical diversity and perhaps an expanse of meditative tranquility, all rally in a gallant effort to make sense of the contemporary world. The paintings allude to something in the air having to do with sounds and media—like waves or PCB’s. These aural vibrations are perhaps a back door to the landscape of an impersonal digital age; the predominant entrance, like a Gursky photograph, is literally a picture of mechanized society. Humphries describes a landscape of spiritual riches in the new clutter of the airwaves. The viewer at Greene Naftali becomes a party to the works’ music and can get caught up in their magic, which is purported to be as fictitious as Santa Claus in today’s painting world.

Humphries has said that her early dot paintings reproduce the rigor of types of body movements used in the repetitive industry of the tech age. The process and practice of painting, and the conceptualization and reflection involved in that process, may have personally freed her from succumbing to these rigors. “Art is one of the few things in our culture produced by individuals rather than corporations or committees,” she states in an interview in the catalogue for a 2000 retrospective (available at Greene Naftali). Availing herself of a range of techniques and formal elements, Humphries carries on the tradition of abstract painting, saddled with an identity perceived as idiosyncratic and wayward.


Lori Ortiz


The Brooklyn Rail


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