Stanley Boxer “The Ribbon Paintings (1971-1976)”

Berry Campbell

poster for Stanley Boxer “The Ribbon Paintings (1971-1976)”
[Image: Stanley Boxer "Warmfield" (1971) oil on linen, 72 x 72 in.]

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Berry Campbell Gallery presents Stanley Boxer: The Ribbon Paintings (1971-1976) from November 18 through December 23, 2021. Berry Campbell will present a curated selection of paintings from 1971 to 1976. From 1971 to 1972, the ribbons in these paintings are often suspended, flowing with lyrical elegance. By 1973, Boxer began to layer paint thickly, so that the ribbons began to vibrate and fray under their heavy impasto. These Ribbons Paintings are distinguished by their dichotomous feelings of lyricism and brutality, sensations that would merge by the end of the 1970s and characterize much of his subsequent career.

For Stanley Boxer (1926–2000), art making was a way of life. Throughout his career, he wrestled with the natural propensities of media and materials and the physical and historical limitations imposed by artistic forms. He was equally inventive in painting, sculpture, and drawing, striving in each for directness of expression. It was important to Boxer to maintain a strict working routine; he felt the repetition of this practice was “a lubricant,” enabling him to “drift past notions of the moment,” himself, and his self-distrust to see what would happen and make that which “doesn’t exist in physical evidence.” He understood art as a second nature, a creation separate from what a work represented, while it possessed the authority of lived experience. For this reason, he indulged his feelings of being in the world in his art without thinking of his work as being predominantly self-expressive. In this respect, his oeuvre has elements of Abstract Expressionist gut emotion and Post-Painterly detachment without belonging to either camp. Boxer’s friend, the art writer Carl Belz associated his approach with that of the writer Gustave Flaubert who felt that “an author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.” “Amazed and overwhelmed” by Boxer’s art, Belz commented in a memorial article that creating art for Boxer constituted nothing less “than the making of a world, a construct as vast and complex, as challenging and rewarding, as orderly and chaotic, as public and private, as lived experience.”

The present exhibition at Berry Campbell presents the Ribbon paintings created by Boxer in the first half of the 1970s. These works exemplify his feeling that the open-ended freedom unleashed by creativity was a burden for the “modern” artist, which artists were required to accept while preventing its misuse by being self-challenging, constraining open-endedness. As Boxer stated in a 1992 interview with Belz: “Modern art is nebulous, it’s a perception, and it’s somewhat akin to democracy itself, its strength and its power lie in its resilience to abuse.” Like other phases of his career, the Ribbon paintings were a natural evolution for Boxer in his art. In 1969 and 1970, he created works in which he interwove broad, flat strips of primed cloth glued to his canvases with blocks of color stained into the canvas itself. He used subtle squiggles and doodles in paint or lead pencil for a decorative element, evoking his admiration for Rococo works by artists such Gainsborough and Watteau. The results, producing the effect of pure painting despite his collage method, were viewed as ethereal and “Japanese” in spirit, referencing landscapes without providing landscape details.

In 1971, a change occurred in Boxer’s art as he replaced collages that looked like paintings with pure paintings with collage-like aspects. He continued a landscape sensibility but with a new introspective feeling derived from two months in late 1970 when, due to illness, he was confined to Veteran’s Hospital in New York, and his universe narrowed. His only view of the world was that from his window facing the East River. As a result, his works assumed a new topographic and lyrical aspect. In them, the earlier doodles morphed into ribbon-like arcs and bands that he integrated into designs with little tonal variation, while they provided contrasting hues. In Vaheveningblush, 1971, the Vah in the title refers to the hospital. The work, in a narrow vertical format accentuated by a wavering ribbon-like shape, conflates suggestions of upward urban and the aerial river views, suffused in the luminous dusk unique to large cities. It was in this period that Boxer adopted poetically sensuous run-on titles, revealing that his images are meant to be experiential not specific. In Warmfield, 1971, the twisting and tapering of ribbons respond to the canvas edges, demonstrating Boxer’s view that each work of art should be treated as a world of its own, with its own rules and limits, not those chosen by the artist. Here the ribbons conform agreeably to their confined space. Wintergolden, 1971, is a small yet powerful image with a rising orb of Venetian red touching a blue-green horizon line while the flatness of the surface is intact.

Boxer first exhibited his work at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York in 1971. His annual solo shows from 1971 to 1975 at the gallery coincided with the years he created the Ribbon paintings, receiving many favorable reviews. Grace Glueck reviewed his 1972 show for the New York Times, calling the works on view “quiet, very rewarding paintings” in poetic moods. In works of 1972, Boxer began integrating the canvas prime into his images, but using exposed areas as color rather than background, maintaining figure/ground unity. At the same time, the ribbons became at times more frayed and calligraphic, as in Rainnights, 1973, in which the bristling elements seem to emanate from within the canvas, and Sunbraid, 1973, in which the ribbon’s shape is more volatile and less secure in its directional movement. In Sultryfrost, 1973, the linear shapes enter the space from opposing directions as if of their own accord, forcing Boxer to contain their movement. Of his 1973 show, James Mellow wrote in the New York Times: “Large, generous, quasi-geometric forms fill out the squarish formats of Mr. Boxer’s handsome abstractions. The paint handling is deft with the pigment stained and brushed into linen grounds. The color is beautiful and evocative….In a highly personal way, the artist combines the sense or ‘feel’ of nature with the strictly abstract forms of the painting. A fine show.”
Boxer’s surfaces turned more tactile, gestural, and layered in 1974, as he relinquished flat, single colors for fields of shifting, volatile color. One critic related the spectralizing nature of his surfaces to the work of Bonnard. In Hushofnoon, 1974, he again contained the image within a closed space by linear drawing that forms an inner frame. Within the work, ribbons bloat and contract in response to the compression that results. In these paintings, the lyrical mood gives way to more electric, pressured, and vehement feelings. Karen Wilkin observed in 1982 how “the flame-like tones of thickly stroked color” in these works “seemed at once spontaneous and willed. Each ‘ribbon’ seemed to have made its own shape, as though a particular color had meandered across the canvas, but at the same time, we were made acutely aware that this trail of color was the result of a series of repeated, considered gestures which served to spread pigment across the canvas.”

In 1975, the ribbons erupted and began to merge with the surface tactility around them. Wilkin described Boxer’s works as “at once lyrical and brutal, aggressively physical and ineffably elusive…. They depend equally upon laboriously stroked thick oil paint and upon disembodied blushes of color whose substance vanishes as you look.” This description is apt for Roseflakedairabout, 1975, in which the lightly inflected tints are intruded upon by aggressive harsher-toned underlayers that push through the surface. In Arts, Richard Lorber stated that Boxer’s “gestural romanticism” harked back, “with his sweeping trowlings, to Clyfford Still, but with far subtler dissonances of color.” The works of this period include black paintings with the intensity of molten lava, such as Havocpockednights, 1975. Lorber called such works primordial, with a “Blakeian feel for unifying rhythms.” Jeanne Siegel took note of Boxer’s “marvelous black paintings,” commenting that these works “are never really black but blue black or brown black with only a light ribbon-like form to relieve the somber tone.”

By 1976, the ribbons became fully suffused into allover designs. As Wilkin observed: “It’s as though the continuous expanse of thick pigment which surrounded the tongues of color in the ribbon pictures had swallowed them and been tinged by them.” Boxer’s Ribbon paintings are the story of an artist engaged in a living and passionate mediation between existential limitlessness and human discipline. His process between 1971 and 1976 allowed him eventually to loosen the latter, freeing the brutality, but without giving in to it. Throughout the rest of his career, he would continue to face inner and outer directional forces with great integrity.

Boxer’s work may be found in noted private and public collections in the United States and in other countries, including the Ackland Art Museum, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andoer, Massachusetts; the Albright-Knox Art Museum, Buffalo, New York; the Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina; Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana; the Birla Museum of Art, Calcutta, India; the Boca Raton Museum, Florida; Business Community for the Arts, New York; Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, Florida; Ciba-Geigy Corporation, West Caldwell, New Jersey; Chase Manhattan Bank, New York; the Columbia Museum, South Carolina; the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; the Edmonton Art Gallery, Canada; the Everson Museum, Syracuse, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Houston Museum of Art, Texas; IBM Corporation, New York; Inexco Corporation, Houston, Texas; the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Jersey; Joel & Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond Museums, North Carolina; Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri; Lafayette Museum of Art, Indiana; the Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen; McDonald’s Corporation, Woodland Hills, California; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Milwaukee Art Center, Wisconsin; the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of the Twentieth Century, Vienna, Austria; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, New York; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton; the Power Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; Prudential Life Insurance Company, Newark, New Jersey; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; the Santa Barbara Museum, California; the Singapore Art Museum; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; TSO Financial Corporation, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; and the William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri.
—Lisa. N. Peters, Ph.D.



from November 18, 2021 to December 23, 2021

Opening Reception on 2021-11-18 from 18:00 to 20:00


Stanley Boxer

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