Saturday, July 25, 2015


The Fogg Museum at Harvard will be closing its Special Exhibition of its Rothko Murals tomorrow. Seems a shame. It struck me as the highlight of its new incarnation, and something rather special indeed.

There is no getting around what Mark Rothko was able to conjure up once he established his moody hues, and soft looming rectilinear forms. As almost goofy as these murals are, variations of the letter 'H' cloaked in crimsons (the initial and school color of the institution for which they were commissioned), after over fifty years, their time has come, and old age has made them venerable beyond belief. Rothko seems to have parked himself in Harvard Yard and literally channelled the brick buildings, their shapes and motifs, into painted icons, knights, guardians, scholars, keepers of the flame. Something sacred. Strangely sombre. With a hush about them. Wholey eligiac.

It is not hard to imagine that in their youth these murals might have been good for a hardy collegiate har har, and not much appreciation, but now, with the benefit of a beautiful albeit temporary home, they are positively radiant.

mark rothko 1963

They also bring to mind the Orozco Murals at Dartmouth; admirers travelling from far and wide to make a fuss of what the college hardly knew it had. Harvard has risked doing the same. Raised like Lazarus, this special exhibition deserves a catalogue. A record. Harvard has a shrine on its hands, and like I said, it closes tomorrow. Glad I saw it. A couple of times. Thank you Fogg. Thank you Harvard. Thank you Rothko.

Addison Parks
Cambridge, July 25, 2015

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Milton Resnick (1917-2004)

If ever there was a painter whose work is shrouded in mystery, it would be Milton Resnick. He is both difficult and challenging; and the two are not the same.

Milton Resnick

This was his nature, his experience, and his legacy. Ironically,  he is considered by many to be the painter's painter, and his followers are legion.

The truth is, however, that "painter's painter" doesn't even begin to tell the story, which is why the use of the word irony. The power Resnick holds over painting and painters is not so easy, not so genteel. No, God, or the Father, would be more fitting, as so many painters who have come to his table and made a meal of his painting, have become one of his sons and daughters. It just happens. Almost like it or not. It is a truth that is complicated, and difficult, in that God and Father way, and "painter's painter" falls so short that the expression seems almost pitiful. In the same way that reproductions of the work fall short, the way a photograph of the Grand Canyon falls ridiculously short. Resnick engenders that kind of awe. That kind of magnitude. Almost terrifying.

Cheim&Read Installation, The Elephant in the Room, 2011

Cheim&Read Installation, The Elephant in the Room, 2011

Cheim&Read Installation, The Elephant in the Room, 2011

Cheim&Read Installation, STRAWSThe Elephant in the Room, 2011

No matter how we may comfort ourselves into thinking that we are prepared, experienced, adept, sophisticated, educated, and aesthetically tough-minded enough, when confronted with Milton Resnick's work, we are in the dark. We are back at the beginning. Every time. It is the beauty of his work. It is always changing. It is always different. It always gives us something new. Every time. In this regard almost more than any other Resnick stands alone. It is the double-edged sword. Because it is always surprising us, and never fixed, it keeps us at a disadvantage. It does not allow us to become comfortable or familiar. Ultimately, it eludes us, and remains unknown, and unknowable.

UNTITLED 1963, oil on paper laid on canvas, 42 1/2 by 42 5/8 in.

At times, especially from the 70's on (after he abandoned what he dismissed as his pretty paintings-- the "Monet" work of the late 50s and very early 60s), the work becomes absolutely opaque. In fact, if one is to believe his mission, not only did he no longer let the viewer in, but he came out to meet the viewer, almost as if in battle, as in a preemptive strike.

Milton Resnick, untitled, oil on canvas

By brilliantly asserting the action of his paintings out in front of the picture plane (the final frontier after painting had been so thoroughly explored in terms of depth and then flatness), Resnick pioneered and then painted himself out of the picture. It was an unhappy result, and not one that he could likely have forseen or thought through. Nonetheless it suited him. This was his difficult side. Hard to get. He went where few could follow.

Saturn, 1976, 97 x 117 inches, National Gallery of Canada

All the intelligence and touch and passion and poetry and longing inside of him that found its way into his paint could not overcome what could easily be percieved as his ill advised assault on the viewer. By advancing outwardly he risked pushing the viewer away, greeting them but at the same time pressing and almost suffocating them with his seemingly impenetrable fabric of paint.

STRAWS, 1981, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 inches

Indeed, fabric was what Resnick gave us. The fabric of a life he suffered through in so many ways, as a Russian immigrant boy growing up in Brooklyn, as a young artist during the depression,* serving in WWII,  three years starving in Paris, coming into his own as a first generation Abstract Expressionist through the 50s in New York, and then watching everything go Pop in the 60s. He painted the fabric of life he saw in the universe. Someplace more like the firmament. He painted an all at once ragged but sublime fabric that was his sprawling and unfathomable vision of life.

Cheim&Read Installation 2008

Cheim&Read Installation 2008

Resnick in his Broadway Studio

For the viewer to move through his densely textured web, his woven and crusty wall of paint, to pass through his thick fabric, to get past the tower of rage and obsession, to dissolve into his night time sky, or dive into his quicksand, to discover the warm glow of intimacy up close, the flecks of jewel-like paint shining inside, embedded in his ferocious sea, the fire below; to find his heart, and even his joy and humor, required more than loving him or loving his painting, required more than a brave and fierce commitment to his pure, demanding, and seemingly limitless abstraction, it took the broken and bleeding feet of a believer. It took undying faith!** Or...maybe...just maybe, it took what all art takes. Unfettered curiosity. Untutored wonder. An open mind. A big yes. ***

Detail #1 of Resnick paint up close

Detail #2 of Resnick paint up close

Either might explain the fervency of his followers. Either might explain their devotion.

Resnick's Lower East Side studio

Resnick painted himself. He painted us. All of us. The vast thing from the bottom of our souls to infinity. Nothing less would do. When we go there, we go alone, or just maybe, we go with God (His studio on the Lower East Side was a former synagogue). With so many painters we have some kind of footing. With Resnick we have none. Hardly a color we can hold onto. We grasp. We cling. We brace ourselves against the elements. We reach for straws. We let go. We get knocked down. We fall. We get back up, and we do it all over again!

East Is The Place1959, Oil on canvas 117 1/2 × 190 5/8 × 1 7/8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum 

Addison Parks
Spring Hill, July, 2015

Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof
Milton Resnick,untitled,acrylic on paper, c.1990

** It is worth noting that before Milton Resnick ended his life in 2004, his late paintings tell the story of someone who retreated rather considerably from the severity he demanded of himself and of painting most of his hard-fought career. They reflect a gentler and more forgiving view of art and life; perhaps more than just a stepping back from the abyss, perhaps an entirely different feeling about things altogether. There is another story there that it would seem needs telling.

Milton Resnick, Landscape in Mohegan, 1939, oil on canvas

*Landscape by then 22 year old Milton Resnick working for the Easel and Mural Division of the WPA.

Milton Resnick, PENNANT, 1959, oil on canvas, 60 x 48

*** I grew up with this painting, Pennant, from the age of six, and it has been with me everyday since, and now hangs over my mantel. Son of Resnick.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015



By Addison Parks

This is such a simple story in so many ways, and the drawings and paintings tell it so well. Porfirio DiDonna lived and died. He had parents who brought him up close, and he stayed close. He drew and painted. He said what he had to say with marks and shades and colors, and he put it down with touch and with something more than confidence. Something more like pre-knowledge, if it exists. Something like faith. And he was awake to it all. Love, light, god, joy, darkness, evil, pain, the physical, the musical, the mystical, dreams, smells, the building, the garden, the road, the home. The paintings tell his story, and how could it be any other way. If you find these paintings, they will find you.

First of all, the seventies were Porfirio DiDonna's complete decade, the fulcrum at the middle of his life's work. In the late sixties he studied at Pratt, and then Columbia. In the eighties he achieved his mature style, but died in August of '86. In the seventies he experienced a complete decade of style, and explored it from one end to the other. This was the period of his dot paintings. It is a body of work that holds together like a train of box cars.

It was all there in the Seventies in the drawings. All of the shapes and the marks. They were the language of signs which would later shape his expression; hammer, lift, and illuminate. And what appeared as openness in dot paintings, and was born in the drawings, slowly became realized in the new work. Something also new in the work was a sense of struggle, something which was natural in his student work, but sublimated by the formula of the dot paintings.

Porfirio DiDonna was born in Brooklyn in 1942, and grew up there, living at home with his parents until he was thirty-five. That is unusual in this country. He had brothers and sisters, and in an apparently quiet and uncompetitive way, he was something of the chosen one. He had a very close and loving relationship with his mother which seemingly nurtured him completely. At thirty-five he moved to Manhattan, but stayed close to home. At the age of thirty-eight, in 1981, he made a trip to Italy. His mother gave him foundation, support, and religion. Italy gave him space, color, and light. When you look at his drawings you can see that this was not a person searching for connection, reacting in confusion, striving to prove something. This was a person fulfilling a vision with the rapid fire of dominoes falling. The hunger for marks evident in the drawings tells you he was on to the next drawing while the last one was still faint from the fury of fusion. He had roots like the rock to give him the kind of freedom to serve his vision. Freedom we pick up on and appreciate so much in the drawings.

There is something familiar about this work. The generosity and openness is a big part of that; it also creates a dialogue which talks and listens. We can do the same. These final works extend a hand so gently that we can hardly refuse it. It is so firm and steady that we take it.

The final works exploded onto paper and canvas in 1985, just before something exploded in his brain. They possess that intensity of almost unbearable proportion. The less gentle ones have colors and edges which can cut us open and burn into us. There are images of love, and then ones of almost possessed vision, pressing evangelical action. The chalice and the sword. Which is it? Are we the guest or the meal?

Certain paintings are clearly the chalice. They bear us love. One is the red and green radiant vitality of the garden. The centered shape becomes the tree of life. A trunk we can put our arms around. It is also the male shape, and equally the female shape, but then, which is it really? Another becomes more the fresco. Shadows washed with light. A cup on an altar. A roman freeze. Blood and redemption. Hope and the light green sea.

Other images, however, are the sword; sometimes feverishly so. All cut out. The hard edges of stained glass or patchwork cloth. They cut. Take this sword. More blood than wine. Male. Vertical. Swift justice. Fiery vision. Glory. Irrational image in a rational suit. The next is more benign. The sword divides the canvas. Fire on the left. Green earth on the right. Three pink windows perforate the sword. It is the sword put to rest. These last paintings are all roughly life size and vertical. Doorways. Their brush marks have spring in them, carrying lightness and darkness, color and feeling. They dabble, and dapple; shimmer and sparkle; march and marry. They swim in the canals created by DiDonna's curving lines, steering left and right, and sometimes flooding the painting. When they join together and offer the chalice, we cannot refuse them; the sword, and we tend to shy away.

One of his very last paintings says it best. It is a lightish brown vertical vessel with those sweet fast curving lines containing each side. Around it are thumb-sized flecks of blues and browns and ochres clustering and dispersing, space and light. The form is suspended in the center, hovering closer to the top, as though levitating. It is looking at us. It is him. It is her. Christ and earth mother. Buddha and angel. Self and selflessness. It is tree, fish, bird. All things. It is us. There are those who believe Porfirio DiDonna said what he had to say before he died. If it is possible, I would have to agree. Porfirio DiDonna had arrived.

Copyright:Addison Parks,1988
Reprinted courtesy of ARTS Magazine
Cover article for the January 1989

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Porfirio DiDonna: Dot Paintings at Elizabeth Harris

Untitled(pdn41), 1977, oil and gesso on linen, 60 x 60"

The mystery, or miracle, that is Porfirio DiDonna, unfolds with time. And well it should, or would. Somehow it has something to do with music. With sound. Or no sound. The soundlessness in between. As though the notes he was playing on a piano(DiDonna was an accomplished pianist who loved Jazz) were all about defining, or caressing, or honoring, the silence in between. Bracketing. Bookending. For breathing. For breathlessness. Cupping his hands, holding the Holy Spirit ever so gently. The unknowable. The all powerful. In every sense of the word.

Untitled(pdn69), 1975, oil on linen, 48 x 84"

According to John Baker, DiDonna's biographer(Porfirio DiDonna: The Shape of Knowing, published by Pressed Wafer, 2013), this man was a religious artist. Indeed, Baker has staked his reputation on this uncomfortable premise. That in the age of man's great intellectual, free-thinking, rational and scientific prowess, a smart, well-educated, self-aware, and sophisticated citizen of the world and modern art, believed in something ancient, something held alive in the heart, cradled in churches and cathedrals; something floating in among the particles of dust dancing in the rays of light filtered through a stained glass window during a Sunday Mass. Maybe someone who stands alone among 20th Century artists. Maybe someone who only an artist like Rothko could even begin to help us understand.

Because as hard as it might be to explain, Porfirio DiDonna was all about what was floating around in his paintings, bracketed and bookended, and held by his marks, his shapes, his colors, his dots.

Elizabeth Harris Gallery Installation

Which is why this dot painting show at Elizabeth Harris is so important. The dots are really the key. John Baker will tell you so. They are the mapping of our spiritual universe, according to Porfirio DiDonna. Spiritual in the Biblical sense. They are the charts of God's infinite being. Actually calculated. Like scientific calculations. Ironically, calculations with a physicist's fire.

Elizabeth Harris Gallery Installation

I think Baker calls the dots something like place holders. When the almost impossible truth of this dawns on the viewer the entire breadth of DiDonna's oeuvre opens like a window. From the early more overtly religious imagery, to the dots, to the arabesques(road paintings), to the final explosion of iconic vessel images he made just before he died in 1986. We can swim in and through the work. Intimately. Knowingly. We can accelerate as if through hyperspace, we can float on that particle of dust dancing in the ray of sunshine filtered through a stained glass window, held aloft by a lowing choir. We experience the air, the light, the spirit; we let go of the idea of color, for example, that it is no longer color, or a color, but a place holder of sorts. A place holder for him, for us, a kind of introduction. A meeting. Welcome. Sit down. Stay a while.

Untitled(pdn26), 1975, oil and gesso on canvas, 96 x 48"

Porfirio DiDonna painted the thing that cannot be painted. Yes. Call it the air if that is easier, or the spirit, or the awesome nothingness, but he did it. Anyone who has been touched by his work knows this. Maybe not consciously. Maybe that would be just as impossible. But they are held by it, alive in it, just like the infinite and expansive space in between, in between two notes, two marks, two dots. They are held gently in his outstretched hands, aloft, with a vast and breathtaking view of everything he believed.

Untitled(pdn242), 1970-71, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 96 x 72"

Addison Parks
Spring Hill, July, 2015

Porfirio DiDonna(1942-1986)
Paintings From The Seventies
May 14 - July 31, 2015

Elizabeth Harris Gallery
529 West 20th St.
New York 10011