Leslie Feely is pleased to announce Color Release: A Decade of Abstract Tableaux by Friedel Dzubas, an exhibition of rarely seen works by the German-born American artist Friedel Dzubas (1915–1995), created between 1971 and 1983. This exhibition traces the arc of Dzubas’s growth into a new phase of painterly style. Color Release sees Dzubas as breaking the confines of line and contour to release color in a set of luminously-filled expressions of optical and tactile experience.
Throughout Dzubas’s artistic career—from his early works, which featured thickened impasto and athletic pulls of paint, to his mid-career paintings, which adapted to the new trend toward thin applications of paint on raw canvas—Dzubas has been a two-fisted brush painter who reveled in the activation that gestural painting naturally foregrounded. In the phase from which paintings in this exhibition are drawn, Dzubas became deeply committed to atmospheric depictions, creating areas of a single scumbled color and deploying what he called the “fade-out” or “wash-out.”
In Salerne, 1971, these two approaches are placed in approximate tension as a numinous area of lightened blue presses against a phalanx of vertical color bands. The upper left corner features a miniaturization of this composite gesture, rotated ninety degrees, a type of balancing of compositional design to which Dzubas was enormously sensitive. Salerne II from the same year brings this contrast nearer to the surface plane and scales up the dialogue between atmosphere and the falling away juxtapositions of the vertical color group. Note the way in which a “falling off” of the two short stacks is, in effect, anchored by the blazing cobalt within the neighboring group. The optical color play within the allover “sienna” field—a technique reminiscent of Rembrandt’s use of the same “sienna” pigmentation in many of his works—elicits from the viewer an emotional response in concert with Dzubas’s push and pull color gestures.
Nightroot, 1973, and Night Ferry, 1975, feature Dzubas’s masterful use of his “fade-out” technique: his brushing away pigment at one end of his color bands to disclose the underlay of gesso, adding not only to the luminosity of these extraordinary pictures, but also to the sense of a multidirectional rush across the canvas. The use of a gesso ground was an anomaly among his painter-colleagues at the time, who diluted their pigments, which they poured, brushed, sprayed, and sponged into raw canvas, achieving what influential critic Clement Greenberg called an effect of “dyed cloth.” Dzubas, in contrast, held fast to traditional painting techniques, primarily using brushes (at times rags and fingers), to spread his paints. Interestingly, like Old Master painters, he sketched his works, preferring to scale them up after to full-size renderings. Yet unlike them, he sketched using gesso over which he laid his abstract designs in acrylic paint.
If one of the effects Dzubas sought was the movement of color shapes, by the 1980s he had achieved what can only be understood as his “flamboyant” style. Early Race and Midnight, both from 1981, display that extraordinary release of energy Dzubas sought. Notice the contrapuntal formations that seem to come about through sheer dynamism launched by a mere lift of the brush. The manner in which contrasting color bands overlap and merge set off an exuberant series or color events. The verticality of Madam X, of two years later, 1983, compresses layers of irregularly-shaped, contrasting colors, suggesting not only abstract forms, but in this case, a resonance with John Singer Sargent’s own Madame X, 1883–84.
Dzubas’s releases of color conjure chromatic tableaux of balance and collision. Opposed to any form of stasis, Dzubas creates a powerful aesthetic vision that in partnership with the viewer, suggests, as he stated, “the larger experiences touching us. And at that moment, we become the larger thing, that instant.”
- Patricia L Lewy