POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Thomas Nozkowski, Image via: Pace Wildenstein
Sarah Milroy over at the Globe and Mail thinks that if New York based Thomas Nozkowski had a theme song it would be Forever Young. She doesn’t specify whether she means Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, or Alphaville’s song by that name, but presumably the title tells us all we need to know. Nozkowski is young at heart. It might be true, though she goes on to describe the work as friendly, which personifies painting more than I like.
To be clear, I don’t offer an objective opinion on Nozkowski — he was my teacher in 2001 at Rutgers University — but this doesn’t mean I can’t spot poor criticism when I read it. “Examine a Nozkowski and what you end up examining is the archive of your own imagination.” she writes, as if anyone knows what that looks like. If I only dream of ampute model competitions is that what I should expect to see in a Nozkowski painting? Unlikely.
Despite a few sloppy passages though, the piece offers a vivid history as told by Nozkowski on the mid-1960s New York art scene, and the personal approach the painter takes in his work. A few highlights:
The art world he was discovering was surging with ideas. “I did a few talks for WBAI radio station, a private left-wing station in New York,” he remembers. “For one show I interviewed Ad Reinhardt,” an American minimalist known for his austere all-black paintings. “The sound engineer was a labour organizer and he was getting more and more pissed off by all our fancy art talk and these black paintings, and Reinhart’s claim to be making political art. But Reinhardt said, and I remember it still: 'Advanced thinking about art is the same thing as advanced politics. It’s all about advancing human freedom. How can you open things up for people? How big can you make their world?’”
I don’t know if I believe Reinhardt’s sentiments — they seem a little lofty — but I like his dedication to the idea regardless. As a side note, Nozkowski reminds me that I’d like to see WNYC invite artists to talk a little more frequently. Last week’s interview with Roger White and Dushko Petrovich of Paper Monument provide a great example of how much artists can contribute to quality programming.
Following Nozkowski’s comments on the scene in the mid 60s, he offers up a few sentiments in defense of craft.
I decided I would make paintings that would fit into the apartments of the people that I knew.” As well, he abandoned the anonymity of concept-driven art. “All of us are interested in having an un-alienated life,” he says. “What is the point of having a craft if you cannot use it to speak about the things that interest you outside the studio?” His art would be rooted in his own life experience.
I like these sentiments if for no other reason than they are specific to Nozkowski’s thinking and practice. This is always a good sign. A little later in his coversation with Milroy she finally asks him, “what can painting do that nothing else can?” His answer is perfect.
“Oh, that’s easy,” he says, his voice relaxing affectionately. “There is no other tool that can unite images and emotions so efficiently, that can bring together what you see and what you feel about it. Painting is about pursuing what you desire. “