Art of the here and now -- timeless and arresting

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True growth in art is rare. To have it, an artist must, to a large extent, become one with his art. Only if his forms and symbols represent his deepest realities can he mutually evolve toward whatever goal he has in mind.

To watch a talent grow from year to year, to watch forms and colors simplify and achieve deeper resonances, and ideas and intentions become more all-encompassing, is to enjoy one of the true pleasures of gallery viewing.

Such pleasure is particularly enhanced if the talent, while following its own star, is also able to engage the greater issues of the art form it has chosen, and the culture within which it exists.

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I've had that pleasure on several levels and over varying lengths of time. Every new Richard Diebenkorn exhibition, for instance, is for me like a new chapter in a fascinating book I've been "reading" for almost 30 years. And there are dozens of other talents, big and small, whose evolutions remain of particular interest to me.

Last year I added the name of Robert Quijada to that list. His second New York exhibition had been so quietly effective, his growth since his previous one so logical and yet so imaginative, that I decided then and there that I would make it a point to see his next show.

I just have, at the Ericson Gallery here, and it makes me look forward to his show next year even more than I did to this one.

For one thing, Mr. Quijada's art belongs totally to the here and now, and doesn't partake of the myth currently gaining ground in some circles that the "good times" of painting -- meaning the years 1948-62 -- can somehow be brought back or updated.

Something very subtle has been happening in art these past four or five years , something which is finally beginning to take us out of the post-World War II period in which we have been stagnating all too long. That is a very general and deep-rooted search for evidence of the interconnectedness of painting and sculpture rather than for the clearest possible definition of where they differ.

Never before have I seen so many painters go three-dimensional, and so many sculptors desert solid and heavy materials for fragile and ephemeral ones. It's almost as though art has moved, for the moment, from walking and running to a kind of flight.

Robert Quijada is one of the painters who has gone, or perhaps I should say is going, three-dimensional. Not that he has deserted flatness or has designed art to sit on the ground or hang from the ceiling. His works still belong on walls and may always belong there. But they have, at the same time, increasingly become objects of weight and substance which we want to hold and to study in terms of actual depth and shape rather than as images which create the illusion of such things.

His works are constructions. But to say they consist of stretched canvases, strips of bare and painted wood, wood wrapped in acrylic-painted canvas and tied with painted string, and jagged, torn edges of various flat substances, is like saying that a John Updike story consists of words.

What they really consist of are elements of a formal language that has evolved out of earlier work whose imagery was highly geological, very conscious of the mystique of time, and remarkably handsome in effect.

Mr. Quijada's current work is less handsome, less time-centered, and barely geological. But in their places he has put beauty, a remarkable sense of the present, and an imagery which is totally abstract yet extremely rich in allusions.

Color has been kept to blue and red -- plus black and white. "Blue Composition No. 1," the largest piece in the show, is predominantly blue with various other colors occuring throughout as accents and balancing devices. It is a lovely piece whose vertical striations interrupt and enrich larger areas of flat blue. It is also a piece full of subtle tensions in which considerable attention has been paid to the placement of knots in the various strings, and to cracks, torn edges, and textural clashes.

"Black Composition No. 2" on the other hand, is almost entirely black, but the kind of black which was used to such good effect by Manet and Braque, and which, through sensibility and skill, becomes a real color and not the non-color it technically is.

Mr. Quijada is also expert with white, and has produced any number of works whose "whiteness," upon closer examination, consists of dozens, even hundreds, of tiny variations of color, texture, and material.

Although most of these are paper works, he does have two white constructions in this show. They "work" well enough, in fact they have subtleties not found in the other pieces, but for my money they don't carry quite the impact his other works do.

At this point it is still clear how far Mr. Quijada will be able to carry his art. My personal guess is that he is fashioning a solid career for himself in an art world that is not only ruthless but extremely fickle.

There is a timeless quality to his work which belies the simplicity of its format, as well as a remarkable quality of compactness which indicates that there is a great deal more art bubbling away inside.

These constructions and works on paper by Robert Quijada will remain on view

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