Barry Schwabsky is art critic for The Nation and co-editor of international reviews for Artforum. His recent books are Heretics of Language (2017), The Perpetual Guest: Art in the Unfinished Present, and a collection of poems, Trembling Hand Equilibrium. (February 2018)
“Two images recur throughout [my] work,” wrote Moira Dryer in 1991, “those of loss and desire.” How, I keep wondering, can those two things be images? I’d like to ask her, but I can’t; Dryer died of cancer the following year, at the age of thirty-four. She already knew more about loss than many people her age. In 1982, fresh out of New York’s School of Visual Arts, the young Torontonian married a fellow student; fewer than eighteen months later, her husband was dead, of a congenital heart ailment. Later, most of her career, though prolific and highly successful, would be shadowed by her own illness.
The collaboration between Frank O’Hara and Italian artist Mario Schifano is fully realized in the eighteen-page-long Words & Drawings, just published by the Archivio Mario Schifano in Rome. What might have made Schifano’s art look a bit behind the times to many New Yorkers—its focus on landscape and the figure, however removed from naturalism, and the primacy it gave to drawing—would have been just what endeared it to O’Hara, who was unhappy with how the New York scene was evolving. He had not entirely facetiously dubbed his own style of poetry “personism,” but the new art was suddenly going all cool and impersonal.