Knox Martin’s career spans over 60 years, a period of time in which he incorporated and mastered elements from Abstract Expressionism and Pop without becoming an imitator or follower, and always remaining daring, unclassifiable and brilliant. A regular exhibiter here and in Europe, and active today at 87, he continues to surprise and delight in this splendid exhibition of more than 30 paintings.
Rambunctious, vivid and sexy, they celebrate color, movement, the body and strange juxtapositions of irregular lines and shapes. You can discern the expressiveness of Abstract Expressionism and wit of Pop. But his works are too explosive to be contained by any one style. Underlying everything is a sense of his sheer pleasure in the physicality of paint, which he applies layer upon layer until his paintings look like collages, carefully constructed and then thrown into the wind to see what character they will develop.
Though the show’s title is Black and White Paintings, the works here, whether large or small format, include brilliant color. “Woman with Flowers 1” comes closest to being all black and white, an eerie, almost menacing combination of vein-like black lines threading their way across a white landscape. A stabilizing and quiet bit of orange peeks out of a gap in a broken circle, a marvelous way to emphasize the surrounding chaos. “Woman with Flowers 2” owes something to Chagall, with its figure of a woman floating in space, her body stretched out on a couch, decorated with a Matisse-like red-and-yellow pattern, her oversized face, with its big red lips and black hair, partly obscured by black-and-white breasts. The breasts almost look like eyes peering over the very active scene.
In the geometric “Woman with Red Shoes,” legs could be the strings of a guitar, breasts once again could be eyes and the pointed red shoes are too phallic to be wearable. White drops fall across a black window like stars, while tiny black spots against white convey the jolly feeling of polka dots. What’s fascinating is the amount of energy and movement Martin generates, with lines that swoop and stretch through the tumult with tremendous energy. That vibrancy and the depth he achieves through his painterly sophistication make looking at his works an invigorating and illuminating experience. Moreover, he even helps you find your way: If you ever wonder what direction everything is moving in his works, look for the triangles.
Through Nov. 13, Woodward Gallery. 133 Eldridge St., 212-966-3411.