in the Margins, Where the Action Is
The painter Trevor Winkfield is, in more ways than one, an oddity. In an art world overpopulated by careerists with a gimmick and theorists with a beef, Mr. Winkfield has steadfastly pursued his art without recourse to formula or fashion. At a time when glib appropriations of popular culture permeate almost every facet of contemporary art, Mr. Winkfield transforms a pop-inflected imagery into something personal and rooted. In a gallery scene renowned for its sophomoric high jinks, Mr. Winkfield's art is endowed with a wit that is keen and dry. His work looks nothing like the major art we've come to expect from the standard surveys of late-20th-century culture. Mr. Winkfield's pictures can, in fact, look downright marginal. Yet he is one of our most distinctive and, frankly, best painters. Which goes to prove that, right now anyway, the margins are where the action is.
Walking into an exhibition of Mr. Winkfield's paintings is to enter a dotty and rambunctious cosmos. It is a world that is as complex as it is concentrated as it is comical. The paintings are absurd and logical, dizzying and sober, nostalgic and up-to-date. They remind us of how uncommon a true artistic vision is. An exhibition of Mr. Winkfield's canvases based on the motif of the still life is currently on view at Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
In describing Mr. Winkfield's
canvases, one is tempted to dust off the cliche of "everything but
the kitchen sink." This metaphor is, however, wanting and wrong.
In Mr. Winkfield's pictures, no object or motif is superfluous. Each of
the artist's heraldic doohickeys, however transmuted, has a formal and
iconographic import. There's not a wasted moment in his paintings, even
if every moment is a veritable cornucopia of flux and incident. For all
I know, the artist has already given the kitchen sink an indispensable
place in his oeuvre.
There is a collage-like sensibility
to these topsy-turvy compendiums, and Mr. Winkfield delineates them with
a patiently empathic touch. When he approximates the grainy texture of
a newspaper photograph, it's not only a play on the quotidian nature of
everyday images, but a droll addendum to his distilled and deliberate
paint handling. Mr. Winkfield orchestrates his imagery within a kaleidoscopic
structure that amplifies its pictoral punning.
In the pictures he has done in the last 10 years or so, Mr. Winkfield has sought- and, in his best paintings, achieved- an equilibrium between a surfeit of symbols and compositional necessity. One can get a good idea of how the artist has developed by comparing the paintings at Tibor de Nagy with his works on paper, dating from the late 1970's and early 80's, in a concurrent exhibition at the Barbara Ann Levy Gallery of Contemporary Fine Art. True, the artist's stylings have been, over the past 20 years, constant. Mr. Winkfield, one might say, was ever thus. But the early works are all seams and no flow. In them, Mr. Winkfield's gallery of goofs calls attention to itself too strongly. Consequently, the viewer trips up on cute bits of shtick-like the comic book scatology of Father and Son (1982)-and the work doesn't get beyond a devilishly genteel brand of illustration. This is where marginality gets a bad name.
Mr. Winkfield has sharpened
his art by all but becoming an abstract painter. It's evident that he
has profited from looking at classic geometric abstraction, although what
Mr. Winkfield does with neo-plasticism (and color) would have given Mondrian
conniptions. The recent still-life paintings are his most integrated,
if not most ambitious, canvases. This doesn't mean that the artist is
immune to the occasional dud, however. Studio Still Life (1999) is a flat-footed
cataloguing of curiosities, and his less complicated images feel designed
rather than inhabited. But pictures like Ice Cream, Trophy (both 1999)
and Still Life With Fish II (1998) hold tight without sacrificing an iota
of Mr. Winkfield's discombobulated vigor. The artist's maturing powers
as a painter have bolstered his art by forsaking its bits-and-pieces specificity
for the fulsomeness of an encompassing whole.