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April 12 - May 24, 2003 at Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood

by Bill Lasarow

It meant one thing when gestural abstraction arose in the urban grittiness of New York City half a century ago, ripe with rebellious energy and clawing its way to acceptance and then dominance. For the generations that have followed the swagger and operatic emotions associated with that New York moment could only be emulated or evoked, and that’s not good enough. It’s been left to the kids who were blown away and immersed in the breakthrough work back then to grow old with the stuff.

If anyone has stuck with the program more persistently than Michael Goldberg I’m not sure who it is. You look at these exuberant, hard charging paintings by a guy pushing eighty thinking he’s still got to have a full head of wild black hair. There is nothing here that suggests he is pushing the brush, knife, or oil stick any less urgently than when he first got religion. The commitment to each image is sustained, not perfunctory, and the range of ideas is usually broad and lively.

All over composition is alive and well in this selection of about a dozen paintings done over the last two years. Goldberg’s well known practice of applying paint and scraping it back down activates his search for an image and composition even as it enriches the visual density of the final result. In Philosopher by Moonlight the selective scraping away of the final paint layer turns the final image into an avalanche of bricks crashing through the picture plane. Observing the tumbling weight pouring out, you can’t help but think how important the flatness of the picture plane was for this crowd. But Goldberg makes no bones about his own ideology of painting: go wherever the painting takes you. Nothing is sacred--except the act of painting.

There is a strong element of transition from light to dark among these paintings that is like day and night. The brightness and saturation in an Untitled work might make you squint after looking into the stygian depth of Virgil’s Tomb, whose markings cut evanescent horizontal swaths across the blackness. It isn’t news that an art eschewing representation often evokes the natural world. Nor is it surprising that a mature graduate of the New York school who spends half the year near Siena, Italy likes to remind us that he peeks over his shoulder at classical antiquity (see Tempio di Apollo Mel Circo).

"Untitled", 2002,oil on
canvas, 73 1/4 x 55 1/2".

"Virgil's Tomb", 2002,oil
on canvas, 52 1/4 x 52 7/8".

"Tempio di Apollo Mel Circo",
2000, oil on canvas, 69 x 66 1/4".

"Philosopher by Moonlight",
2002, oil on canvas, 60 7/8 x 59 3/4".

Such formal and conceptual postures, far from being the mutinous embers of reaction to Greenbergian formalism, come across as the natural result of the artist’s lifelong commitment to painterly abstraction. Its essence is autobiographical in the sense of a record rather than a narrative. What Goldberg sees and thinks about simply finds its way into the painting process, imbedding itself in these images as response rather than depiction. The vividness of what is brought to each painting is reflected in what they bring to the eye.

The swirls and circular strokes that move vertically down the right side of Italian Landscape I bring your eye to rest temporarily in a thicket of black foreground. Out of this rises swirls of pink and blue that just might be forming into a figurative couple, but dissipates into surrounding earth colors. Slowing the eye down takes effort, as though you are racing to keep pace with the artist’s hand. Make the effort, though, to observe how various areas have been worked and reworked, how lines move through the pictorial space, how they weave in and out with one another. You’ll see all this if you track out blocks that hold together within the image, and note how they invite being broken up and reorganized with other parts like infinitely reshaping jigsaw puzzle pieces.

The improvisational nature of this gestural-based painting is, in fact, its classical side, and fifty years down the road Goldberg’s work makes the point. If this is where the artist lives, it convinces not by proffering the story of his life, but by mapping the soul.