Joyce Kozloff, If I Were an Astronomer (Tasman), 2014, Mixed media on canvas,
72 x 54 inches
Joyce Kozloff’s If I Were an Astronomer (Tasman), 2014, has a magical, rich, nocturnal silver-blue light that unifies the work and allows an exuberance of imagery to be seen as a whole. As recent color painting (of which there seems to be less and less) gets further and further removed from representation, a specific “light” is lost. By light, I mean the vision that each color is tinted by the time of day or diffusing atmospheric conditions; it makes one painting different from another, as indeed Tasman is different from the sun-dried-tomato reds of Mediterranean. We have the sensation of an artist’s direct experience, rather than someone just running a theory. The presence of full white and full dark, with tonalities in between, adds solidity to the work and makes the work dynamic; having areas darker and others lighter is different from the color of close values, characteristic of 60s Color Field Painting, that has become so common.
Joyce Kozloff, If I Were an Astronomer (Mediterranean), 2014, Mixed media on canvas.
72 x 54 inches
Kozloff always delights in hand work, and in these new works there is a thrilling intensity to our close view. Raising a son, and reading his favorite Tintin by George Remi, she made larger, detailed copies of the illustrated books, as though she took seriously the admonition that an idle hand was the Devil’s plaything. Looking close at Tasman, we see a variety of painted elements and collected elements: printed, retrofitted, reshaped, commuter generated, captured from other worlds. It is evidence of a restless yet generous imagination.
The six-fold and eight-fold patterns are familiar from tilework in Seville and Granada, but in the Alcázar or Alhambra the patterns, though juxtaposed, are isolated from one another. In Kozloff’s work the patterns are more like the Persian miniatures from the Shahnameh in the Metropolitan Museum of New York (made by various artists), where patterns in the architecture, rugs, and tiles are slipped into one another, making patterns within patterns. Indeed, the format of the vertical work reminds me of the proportions of the pages of the manuscript. In this intermixing, Kozloff shows a fascination with, and an understanding of, how the patterns are related, how one can be morphed into another from an underlying symmetry.
Kozloff quickly moved away from 70s Pattern Painting, first to Pattern and Decoration and installation pieces, and then to works with explicit political content. But we must remember how political Pattern Painting was when it first appeared. Political in the artworld, and also just plain political! Traditional women’s work, such as quilts, lace, baskets, deserves to be valued and aesthetically appreciated; no need to be defensive about the decorative; and the work of the whole world – Asian, African, Native American, and Mesoamerican- is our tradition, not just European, not just from parochial New York. To me, If I Were an Astronomer (Tasman) is political in the best sense of the word.