Saying something with 'great gobs of paint'

It's the rare painter who can work with great gobs and swirls of paint and do justice not only to his creative intentions, but also to the rich and juicy nature of paint itself.

Paint has a life of its own and can easily overwhelm all but the strongest or most clear-minded of artists. To the painter, freshly squeezed reds, blues, yellows, greens, etc., have the same explosive potentials as fireworks. Unless he knows exactly what he is doing, knows when to exercise control and when to pull back, he will find himself in the midst of total confusion.

One painter who does know exactly what he is doing -- as his exhibition of paintings at the Frank Marino Gallery here amply demonstrates -- is Tino Zago.

Zago is totally at home slapping large quantities of paint onto canvas -- and he does it very well. But that's not all, for what sets him apart from a large number of his fellow painters is that he is capable of considerable elegance as well.

This combination of power and elegance is rare, and in Zago's case highly effective. It takes the form of stark, primitive images drawn from studies made last year along the rugged nova Scotia coastline. These are seen against flat, decorated screenlike areas which are, in turn, overlapped by solid black, bulky shapes of unclear identity.

It's like viewing the dramatic and exhilarating clash of sea against rocky shore, while also enjoying the more relaxed interplay of form and color of nonobjective painting.

These contrapuntal devices work remarkably well on several levels. The screen areas, which consist largely of diamond-shaped latticework, serve to stabilize the intense emotionalism of the landscape elements, to give a touch of almost French elegance to an otherwise totally American vision of the out-doors, and to focus attnetion on deeper space by providing a flat projection against which this space can more clearly be established.

In addition, the apparently haphazardly placed touches and twirls of color on the latticework actually function as lyrical grace notes played off against the more dramatic action going on in the landscape portions of the compositions.The effect is similar to a pianist playing a very light, effervescent tune with his right hand while keeping more somber and turbulent music going with his left.

These devices are given even greater focus by the black "cutout" silhouettes which overlap both landscape and screen, and which, in some instances (such as in "Gull Rock") actually extend beyond the pictorial frame.

By making this shape as arbitrary and as solidly black as possible, Zago not only establishes a third spatial plane, but also introduces a mildly ominous note to the proceedings.

But here again it is not what the shape represents but how it functions in the overall scheme of the painting that counts. Zago, for all the wild impetuosity of his style, is actually a sensitive and shrewd orchestrator of highly complex pictorial compositions.

This is particularly true of "Smelt Brook," in which every component contributes to a truly remarkable total effect. It is given final point by one elegant little swirl of orange paint toward the center of the screen. Perfectly placed and realized, it functions much as a period does at the end of a sentence.

EVen the works which at first glance seem excessive and a bit chaotic prove upon careful study not to be so. I found the wild abandon of "Yellow Rock" particularly impressive -- most especially because this painting so skillfully skirts the deep, dangerous waters of melodrama and just plain awful painting. The risk was worth it.

It's an impressive show and a passionate one. The latter fact along is a joy to report. Painterly excitement can be a wondrous thing even though it can go to extremes. But if it is balanced -- as it is in this exhibition -- by elegance, intelligence, and a flair for depicting the dramas of nature, it can lead to some extraordinary works of art.

Also on view are some interesting wood sculptures by Arthur Weyhe. These consist of straight cedar poles which were stripped, worked on by hand, and assembled with steel bolts to create environmental pieces.

In addition, a selection of works by the gallery's other artists is on view. Of these I was particularly taken by Ed Meneeley's "Ionian Reflection No. 9."

This exhibition at the Frank Marino Gallery in SoHo will remain on view through July 12.

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