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Larry Dinkin

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critical essay



Larry Dinkin's Abstract Dreamscapes

LARRY DINKIN began as a straightforward landscape painter, recording the details of nature with optimistic innocence, but there was already an uncanny dimension to the idyllic, colorful paintings he made in the late eighties and early nineties. By the late nineties, the uncanny was self-evident: natural space had evolved into a turbulent dream space, more beautiful than any landscape that could be found in nature. Indeed, bizarrely beautiful, as though to confirm the truth that beauty always contains something strange-- something absurd within its harmony, something subjective that threatened to tear the objective harmony apart. Dinkin's evolution is from objective memory to subjective tension-- from images which memorialize nature to abstractions in which nature has become a sum of surreal parts that almost miss becoming a cohesive whole. His abstractions are charged with seductive energy-- at their most libidinously urgent, as in Landscape with Francis Bacon Room, 1999, barely under control. We seem to be witnessing a chaotic inner life, that just manages to organize itself-- a slippery unity of incommensurate enactments, violently erotic and erotically violent. It is the wild tensions in Dinkin's abstract paintings, barely yet intuitively resolved, that make them emotionally exciting. His abstract dream landscapes seem to display the uncanny process of subjective life itself. They are a pyrotechnical display of selfhood far beyond the lovable landscapes with which Dinkin began his career. It is as though he has uncovered a deeper self than he thought possible when he began to explore nature to find traces of it.

Some paintings are like slow burns-- grow on one slowly-- and others are like fast fixes-- all but overwhelm one with their intricacy and intensity. Dinkin's representational landscapes belong to the former category, and his abstract landscapes to the latter category. The former are based on observation of nature, the latter on interior observation or introspection-- observation of the self. Dinkin's works had a visceral, rhapsodic painterliness from the beginning, as Landscape with Wall at Sunset, 1987, Path of Light, 1989 and Cool Shadow, 1991 make clear. But in such paintings as Luminous Interior and Industrial Cathedral, both 1993, and particularly in such recent works as Stage with Life, 1998, Window to a Blue Night, 1998, Landscape of Structure from a Dream, 1999, Great Cathedral, 1997 and Universal Rooms, 1999, the painterly gestures become vehement, agitated, and autonomous. The structure holds-- there is a kind of framework, creating a sense of fixed, absolute space-- but the gestures have become more forceful, threatening to shatter it. The picture becomes an array of impulsive marks, streaks, gashes, sometimes bound together in limited areas of coherence, sometimes existing within the overarching geometrical coherence formed by the framework. But however contained, the gestures never lose their power and independence. They are energy liberated, however limited the space in which it can expand. The space is in effect a cornucopia of vertiginous gestures, startling in their variety and intensity.

Dinkin's abstract paintings are a precarious balance of abrupt explosions of uncontainable gestural energy and soothing, stabilizing structure, which seem to transcend the painterly marks that constitute it. The best abstract painting manages this doubleness with deceptive ease: this simultaneous sense of equilibrium and disequilibrium-- not just "dynamic equilibrium", as Kandinsky called it, but a double vision in which the picture seems a sum of disequilibrated parts that do not add up to a whole and an organically equilibrated whole that is more than the sum of any of its details. Indeed, it rises above them like a mirage of higher unity. Dinkin's recent abstractions achieve this complex magic.

Dinkin is clearly interested in the organic, and the organic character of structure. Cool Shadow assimilates architecture into nature; the gestures that form the building also form nature, if more dispassionately. Whether used "constructively" or expressively, his organic gestures give his scenes their interior life. In such works as Vision of Space and Emotion, 1993 and Landscape of Structure from a Dream, 1999, Dinkin moves beyond paint without forfeiting gestural intensity. The former work, a hand painted computer manipulated image, and the latter, a screenprint, show that it is the gesture that matters not the medium. It is the ability to sustain intense gesture without the support of painterliness-- or rather the ability to convey a sense of painterliness without the materiality of paint-- that makes these works "postmodern." Yet Dinkin never succumbs to the ironical potential of such mechanically sustained-- if not entirely mechanically produced-- gesture. I think this is because they never lose their dream-like character. It is because of this that they hold their own emotionally-- retain their emotional precision-- whatever the mechanism of their making.

It is their radical particularity that ultimately makes Dinkin's abstract pictures uncanny, apart from their imaginary nature. Yet in such early descriptive works as Alley with Cool Green Shadow, 1989 and Florida, 1992, nature already bristles with a gestural intensity that breaks the architectural boundaries that enclose it, suggesting that it is dangerously spontaneous rather than serenely beautiful. Whether mimetic or abstract, it is this undercurrent of abstract, seemingly arbitrary vividness-- willful intensity-- that is Dinkin's
basic subject matter.

-Donald Kuspit

Donald Kuspit is Professor of Art History and Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the A.D. White Professor at Large at Cornell University. He is the author of several books and hundreds of articles on aspects of modern and contemporary art, including The Cult of the Avante-Garde Artist, Signs of Psyche in Modern and Postmodern Art and Idiosyncratic Identities.


During the four or so years that Larry and I shared a studio on Greene Street in Soho back in the early 70's, I would often watch him working out of the corner of my eye. The visceral energy and excitement that he brought to the art of painting was amazing. From a whirl of elbows, slashing strokes and frenzied dabbing and mixing, would emerge gleaming wet color that transformed the white canvas into a profoundly compelling image, in a flash. Larry was, and is, as much a "natural born painter" as I've seen - with all the essential elements of composition, color, vision and light seeming to flow unfettered.

The universe that Larry Dinkin gives us is pure vision - distilled, personal without ego or pretense. It is a consummately crafted journey through passages of pure beauty that have the nostalgic power, if we let them, to bring us the innocent joy of first light.

Over the span of three decades, Larry has dealt with a broad and challenging range of subjects. Whatever the genre, the work is solidly structured and authoritatively painted, so as to make even the most ethereal landscape a powerful statement of time and place. The unifying thread is not surface style, although Larry certainly has his own calligraphy, but profound vision and luminous execution, where shadows glow and the improbable becomes inevitable.

The landscapes and the interiors gloriously elevate to that magical place where paint vibrates endlessly between pigment and metaphor.

- Saul Chase

Saul Chase is a painter living in Mahopac, NewYork. Mr. Chase's paintings are part of the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art; The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; and The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, his works are in many other museums and private collections.



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