Harvey Quaytman: Hone
In a 1997 interview, the abstract painter Harvey Quaytman said about a color in one of his canvases that it was “mostly walnut stain, but it was behaving very badly” until it was mixed with marble dust, “and then it went on evenly.” Quaytman, who came to prominence in the Sixties but did some of his most adventurous work in the two decades before his death in 2002, had a genius for coaxing the materials with which he worked into going “on evenly” and “behaving” in collaboration. The nine paintings in “Hone,” an exquisite selection at Van Doren Waxter of the large abstract canvases Quaytman made between 1982 and 1990, show him mixing his pigments with crushed glass; dividing the space of his paintings with large crosses, smaller rectangles and fragmentary parallel lines; slightly elevating certain strips of material or letting them just exceed the confines of his frames; and shaping the edges of some of his canvases into wave-like curves or sharp points to accommodate the dramatic movements of line and color they bound.
The great source of energy in these paintings is the subtlety of their colors—particularly blues, blacks and reds—and the drama of the interactions between them, which Quaytman attended to as if doing so were a kind of private devotion. “I’ve been working” he said in that late interview, “with old colors, like antimony, which was used to paint reliquaries. I like using these old, old colors, and resurrecting them. Some of them have never been seen in an abstract painting, not that that helps the painting, but it’s a private pleasure, like burying a gemstone beneath the canvas. It pleases me.”
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