Paul Resika at Lori Bookstein

IN MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS of following Paul Resika’s painting, I have yet to see a single flower painting by him. Opening today at Lori Bookstein’s is “Paul Resika: Flowers,” a survey of atypical floral still lifes that begins in the late 1980s and continues into the present. A dozen small scale (22 x 18 inches is exceedingly small for Resika) arrangements illustrate his coloristic verve, an inheritance from his youthful study under Hans Hofmann.

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The one on the right above, Two Bouquets, is dated 1988-2011. It is a safe enough guess—though only a guess—that Resika went back to the earlier compostion to erase the horizonal table edge and disperse the blooms into the background. His revisit makes the design more abstract, more indistinct. The pair of vases float, Matisse-like, on the surface of the canvas. Twenty three years after first recording it, he sought a way to refresh the impression that animated the original painting. Truth to nature, a studio arrangement, gives way to a first, fleeting impression. Nicely done.

The single-vase format relies for interest on color. There is the occasional loose contour line or shadowed emphasis, as in Roses and Shadow (1994), below. But in the main, everything within the picture is of equal value, with little stress. Color changes provide the needed accents.

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It is a pleasing show of agreeable work. Still, Resika’s greatest strength is his graphic agility. He has a robust ability to condense forms to their essence, clarify them with assured, immoveable contours, and place them just so within the edges of a canvas. His flowers, on the other hand, succumb to diaphaneity, a standing hazard in floral motifs. Flowers are a seductive motif. Seductions, though, are risky. Resika’s flower pieces, engaging as they are, invite comparison with Matisse. It is not a comparison most painters—even one as talented as Resika—can survive. Compare this:

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Henri Matisse

Or this:

Henri Matisse

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The Resikas are charming; but the Matisses are magical.

We say too much about painters and painting. Looking tells us more about the difference between a good picture and a compelling painting. Good pictures are common enough; compelling paintings are rare. Inimitable floral works—ones that make themselves necessary, that have an indefinable air of inevitability—are among the rarest of all.

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© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey

4 Comments


  1. I love the Matisses that you have chosen … they are perfect for your point. There are some unbelievable Manets out there, as well, but these Matisse paintings include some un-define-able shapes, perhaps beyond, perhaps in the same plane, that recede or come towards us as we continue to look at them. Lovely.


  2. Yes, Ann, they are undefinable, those Matisse shapes. Sui generis, unrepeatable and pure magic. Thank you for you comment on the ambiguity of the movement of these shapes. Far from static, they seem to dance. But which way? To or fro? What is so lovely is that we do not need to know.


  3. Begining with the previous post, as I did, it strikes me that the genius of Matisse owed nothing at all to an MFA. Same is true of every historic great you can name.

    That said, Resika is, indeed, a fine draphic designer and colorist. His design capabilities seem muted in the flower images displayed.


  4. I appreciate this review – the only one I could locate of Paul Resika’s NY show which I was unable to see in person. I read the review in July before going to Provincetown to be completely and pleasantly surprised by the complexity of Resika’s flower paintings being shown at Berta Walker Gallery. Diaphanous in one definition is “delicately hazy” and that is precisely what Resika works thick patches of color against in his Provincetown work. I didn’t see the NY show so I can’t say that those paintings contain the same range of invention, surprise and response as the work I saw on the Cape. But I do know that painting flowers is very dangerous and if anyone working today can build a painting out of flowers as well as Resika I would love to know about it. I think the comparison to Matisse is reasonable but I would suggest thinking about Matisse’s reliance on black for a moment. Without black, Matisse’s color does not sing, does not operate. By contrast, Resika’s color intelligence and subtlety achieves something remarkable without black and that is a very tall order.

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