Tuesday, September 15, 2015

LEON POLK SMITH AT WASHBURN: A Love Affair with Life / A Portrait of the 1960s

Leon Polk Smith, CORRESPONDENCE VIOLET BLACK, 1966, oil on canvas, 39 x 51 1/2 in.

Leon Polk Smith(1906-1996) had this uncanny gift of tapping into both time and timelessness. If this was calculated, he never said. But if you see the current show(Leon Polk Smith: Paintings and Collages from the 1960s) at the Washburn Gallery in New York, it hits you right between the eyes.

Smith's hard edge, cutting edge, razor sharp ability to capture both the moment and that which is eternal in art sets him apart. It speaks to the power at the core of both him and his work. It was a quality that never ceased to amaze those who knew him. It was a quality that stunned everyone who experienced his work.

Leon Polk Smith, CORRESPONDENCE BLACK YELLOW, 1963, oil on canvas, 77 x 52 in.

The result is painting that is at once startlingly fresh and exuberant, and thoroughly tempered and tough as oak. This was Leon Polk Smith. This was an artist who captured poetry as ephemeral and heartbreaking as a rose petal and transformed that into a blazing skyscraper. Take shock and awe and add tenderness and yearning and the morning sun.

Leon Polk Smith's story says it all. Born and raised among the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes on the wide open Oklahoma plains before it was a state, and then reborn at a mature age by the exploding Modernity of New York City in the first half of the 20th Century.

Leon Polk Smith, VIOLET SCARLET, 1965, oil on canvas, 87 x 41 in.

That Smith thoroughly anticipated and pioneered minimalism and influenced generations of artists doesn't begin to tell the story. Not one of the countless and albeit formidable artists to stand on his shoulders from Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly and Ad Reinhardt to Richard Serra, Peter Halley and Bill Thompson, ever nailed the vicissitudes and zeitgeist of their time quite like Smith. Not surprisingly perhaps the only other artist who did was the only influence Smith ever conceded: Mondrian.

Looking at the works in this show is like seeing color coded flashcards of the Sixties. Everyone elicits a time, a place, a sound, a taste. Rorschach on steroids. Colors and shapes picking up and spitting out the character, flavor, fashion, music and spirit of the times!

Leon Polk Smith, WHITE YELLOW DEEP, 1964, oil on canvas, 52 x 42 in.

Smith was a big fan of graffiti art in the late 70s and early 80s. It should come as little surprise. There is something of the street poet in his work. Maybe more than something. These paintings are the sights and sounds of the 60s in a visual haiku. They flower. They fly off the canvas. The show might well have been titled what it is: LEON POLK SMITH: A Love Affair with Life / A Portrait of the 1960s.

Addison Parks
Spring Hill

Washburn Gallery Installation; Leon Polk Smith: Paintings and Collages from the 1960s

Paintings and Collages from the 1960s

September 10 - October 31, 2015

WASHBURN GALLERY  20 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019 T (212) 397-6780 F (212) 397-4853

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