|￼Richard Jacobs, Summit, 2014, oil, acrylic and dye on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.|
By Carl Belz
Author's note: I've followed Richard Jacobs' s painting since the late 1980s when he established a studio in Waltham MA and I was able to include his work in an exhibition at the Rose Art Museum. The following essay was written for the catalog of his forthcoming exhibition at the Jack Geary Gallery (185 Varick Street, NYC), which opens on September 12 and continues through October 11. The full catalog is available online here.
Richard Jacobs, Putney, Vermont, May 2014
Richard Jacobs and his generational colleagues were mostly too young to have seen "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970," curator Henry Geldzahler’s canonical exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but they’ve likely seen “Painters Painting,” the 1973 documentary classic it inspired, in which director Emile de Antonio interviews many of the artists in the exhibition, notable among them Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, and Helen Frankenthaler. If so, I can imagine the film seeming to them what it has come to seem to me, which is a glimpse of a world on the far side of a cultural divide, a world that for better and worse at times feels inaccessibly distanced by the interventions of the 1970s. And foremost among those I’d cite Postminimalism,* the ground-zero cultural critique that targeted what had gone before in the hope of shaping what was to come, was in large measure identified with the Women’s Movement, and, not least, doomed as blatantly sexist Geldzahler’s 40-member pantheon that had space for only one woman.
Elsewhere in the seventies, we got the one-size-fits-all commonplace of pluralism instead of the panoply of styles we became accustomed to in the sixties, and with it we also got the social history of art instead of formalism, and T. J. Clark instead of Clement Greenberg. In the process, politics, deconstruction and theory supplanted esthetics, connoisseurship and criticism, the reader replaced the writer, and meaning in turn became a function of context rather than individual talent, whose appropriated voice was regularly muffled by quotation marks. Beauty became suspect for its link to commodification, punk instead came to signify sincerity, and objects yielded to ideas via market-resistant conceptual art, while performances and installations both flourished. Realist art experienced a renascence with a boost from photography, yet the death of painting was widely reported. And irony spread everywhere, as postmodernism leveled the playing field and muscled modernism to the margins of the cultural arena it had dominated since the middle of the 1940s. The shifts echoed widely, the divide remains.
|Storm, 2014, oil, acrylic and dye on canvas, 30 x 40 inches|
|Loon Lake, 2014, oil, acrylic and dye on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.|
|Landscape, Figure, Portrait, Skull, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches|
|Odalisque, 2002-2014, oil, acrylic and dye on silkscreen, 36 x 28 inches.|
|Soul Delay, 1997-2013, oil, acrylic and dye on canvas, 52 x 48 inches.|
|For the Anniversary of My Death, Homage to WS Merwin, 2005-2014, oil and dye on paper, 24 x 18 inches.|
As if time had stopped, I was as flattened by them as I’d been with each new exhibition I saw back in the nineties, and I was in turn impressed to learn he hadn’t shown his work at all for over a decade following a firm but risky decision to put that part of his career on hold while focusing his energy on domestic priorities and the studio--the studio where, from the evidence of the pictures before me, the decision paid off where it artistically mattered most, which was by enabling him to bring them to full maturity. In response to their depth and character, I want first to suggest they make the margins of today’s cultural arena--where they can metaphorically be said to have been made--look like abundantly fertile territory for nurturing quality art, maybe more fertile, even, than the spotlighted center of the arena that is so regularly celebrated by our entertainment-driven media. And I will in addition say they demonstrate convincingly how such an art effectively spans any real or imaginary divide between the present and the past, while at the same time extending vital traditions of that past unequivocally into the here and now.
|Malachite, 2014, oil, acrylic and dye on silkscreen, 22 x 18 inches.|
|Wind, 2014, oil, acrylic and dye on silkscreen, 48 x 72 inches.|
|Epiphany, 2014, oil, acrylic and dye on canvas, 40 x 30 inches.|
*For postminimalism, see Susan Stoops et al, “More Than Minimal: Feminism and Abstraction in the ‘70s,” Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, April 21-June 30, 1996.
Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.