New York — An event of considerable art-historical importance is taking place at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery here: a delayed (by 20 years) exhibition of paintings executed between 1958 and 1960 by one of the original abstract-expressionists, Theodoros Stamos.
It's an unusual event because it gives us a chance to see a grouping of these works as they would have appeared in 1960 had Stamos not set them aside in favor of exhibiting even newer work. And because it alerts us to some hitherto little known facets of Stamos's creative evolution.
Stamos's growth as an artist has always been subterranean and deeply intuitive --with its substance and purpose more sensed (by us, and, I suspect as well, by him) than precisely perceived. As a result, any attempt to trace his art linearly back to its creative wellsprings will lead to the same kind of frustration encountered by anyone rash enough to attempt to determine the source of a refreshing spring that wells up at his feet by pacing the earth around it.
both the source of that spring and the sources of Stamos's art are lost to sight. Unlike an artist like Mondrian, each of whose paintings was like a rung up a ladder toward his final vision of perfection, Stamos emerges to view more clearly at certain periods (but never where we quite expect him), and then submerges -- to reappear later again, even richer in resonances and allusions.
The dozen or so paintings in this show represent one such "reappearance," a glimpse of what Stamos the painter was about at a particular time and place. They are extremely simple in structure and consist of three vertical areas within a horizontal format. The colors are highly charged and sensuous -- even the dark and rather ominous works project a powerful sense of sensuality and passion.
Although I like some of them very much, I don't personally think that these number among his very best paintings. Not because they aren't good in their own right, but because I like his later paintings much better. These do not have the controlled adjustments of color to line to mass that make his Sun Box series of the 1960s so effective.
What we do find in this exhibition is a collection of good to excellent paintings representing the work of a deeply intuitive and original artist at a point roughly one-third of the way toward his final creative destination.
As such it is a very worthwhile show. And yet, excellent and valuable as it is, it more than anything else cries out for a broader and more complete look at both the art that preceded it and that followed it. In other words, since this particular exhibition closes April 25, it is time now for a major Stamos retrospective of his work to date.
I hope we get one soon. Stamos is that rarest of creatures, a painter whose art becomes increasingly rich and charged with the distilled experiencesm itself as it goes along --without, at the same time, becoming more complicated, overburdened, or selfscious. And that is a quality we have tended to lose sight of as a goal during our continuing quest for greater levels of sensation, formal invention, and "expression."
Stamos's art is a highly personal fusion of the ideal and the emphathetic activated through a form and a style that is both structurally lucid and spiritually invigorating. In their own quiet way, some of his most recent paintings have quietly underscored the banal self-importance of much recent work by others of high repute. And by doing so, they have hopefully helped put us back on the track toward an art of substance rather than of rhetoric. If the record of that accomplishment doesn't deserve a major restr opective, what does?