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M/The New York Art World - Homage to Seymour Boardman

Seymour Boardman - Untitled 1980

Anita Shapolsky Gallery
By Joel Simpson

Seymour Boardman, who died last October at the age of 84, is the subject of this retrospective exhibition at the gallery owned by his long-time friend and artistic representative, Anita Shapolsky. Although the number of works in the show is not large, they well represent the range of styles in which he painted over his lifetime, and as such included here are some of his most significant paintings. The show also includes interesting works by Boardman's friends, Lawrence Calcagno, Perez Celis, John Hultberg, Burt Hasen, Richards Ruben, Robert Ryman and Nassos Daphnis.

Seymour Boardman - Untitled 2002

Boardman was a New York abstract expressionist who studied in Paris from 1946 to 1948, including a stint in the studio of Fernand Leger. He began to acquire recognition in the 1950s with his paintings of griddled facets seen as if through a frosted glass, without any crisp lines, and in bright colors favoring reds. He received various awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim award in 1973.
What is striking about Boardman, though, is his abrupt changes of style. He would paint in one particular style for a time, then make an oblique turn in a seemingly quite unrelated direction. For example, from those rich facetted paintings of the 1950s that seem to celebrate abundance and diversity, he segued during the early 1960s into simpler two or three-color paintings dominated by a sweeping parabolic arc where the two colors meet. The colors are always deep, often saturated, such as dark green and black, or maroon and cobalt blue. The gestures of these paintings convey a simple certitude.

Then in the late 1960s Boardman made another abrupt about-face and began producing black paintings with single jagged lines of raw canvas running from an upper corner to a lower edge; one might call them paths through invisible labyrinths, or perhaps through seas of troubles. Starkly pessimistic, they seem to have nothing to do with his earlier work.
Athough the artist was purportedly apolitical, one canít help but assign valences from the Zeitgeist to these stylistic shifts. It would seem logical that someone growing up in the Great Depression, who is welcomed into adulthood by World War II, would feel exhilarated with the possibilities for growth and self-expression during the 1950s, a decade that, for all its suburban conformism, still spawned the Beat movement, saw the birth of radical breakaway movements in contemporary jazz, and nourished an array of practitioners of his own abstract art. The early 1960s was an even more hopeful time, in this regard. With a youthful John Kennedy as President and solid progress in the Civil Rights movement, Boardmanís style shifts to one of great assurance, one might even say optimism, with his simple colors and sweeps.

Seymour Boardman - Totem 1959

Once the Vietnam war begins to dampen the national mood, to put it mildly, and a paranoiac Nixon era begins to unfold, Boardmanís work seems to speak of despair, of a narrow, jagged path through anxiety and dread. In another part of the art world post-modernism is being born, mocking the duplicity of public discourse and image. Abstract expressionist Boardman, however, whose paintings had hitherto celebrated energy, abundance, diversity and conviction, abruptly eliminated the image.
But true to form, he doesnít stay there either. Ever restless, he shifts in the 1970s to utilizing rectangles, framed by linear ones against a contrasting colored background. Think of Rothko taking off on a Mondrian. Then in the 1980s we see a return to the jagged pathways; bright solid colors replace the black, and the pathways are cut off from exiting at the edges of his canvas.

Of course, it is a matter of conjecture to suggest the degree to which an artistís work reflects a given social political environment. The breadth and sophistication of Boardmanís oeuvre as presented here, however, is rife with hidden labyrinths and nuance of meaning.

Text provided by M / The New York Art World

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