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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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:
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.
© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey