• Killer Little Paintings

    Date posted: July 1, 2010 Author: jolanta
    London-based painter Ben Pritchard’s newest exhibition, Days, in Long Island City could easily be overlooked, considering the madness of New York Gallery Week, which took place in early May. While most of the focus was on Chelsea and the Lower East Side, I found myself on a Friday at Pritchard’s opening in Long Island City. It is a small and compact exhibit, but I found it to be very serious. It speaks of Pritchard’s larger ambitions as a painter and proves art that can only be made in New York is sometimes made better somewhere else. In a small gallery space underneath the 7 train, with the occasional roar of trains going by overhead, I took a long look at these paintings.

    James Gillispie

    Courtesy of the artist.

    London-based painter Ben Pritchard’s newest exhibition, Days, in Long Island City could easily be overlooked, considering the madness of New York Gallery Week, which took place in early May. While most of the focus was on Chelsea and the Lower East Side, I found myself on a Friday at Pritchard’s opening in Long Island City. It is a small and compact exhibit, but I found it to be very serious. It speaks of Pritchard’s larger ambitions as a painter and proves art that can only be made in New York is sometimes made better somewhere else.


    In a small gallery space underneath the 7 train, with the occasional roar of trains going by overhead, I took a long look at these paintings. I found variation and invention using anthropomorphic brush strokes that were ethical and not overly fussed with. I found clarity and a substantive insistence to discover new abstract forms. They avoid the dogmatic stigma that some abstract painters here in New York fall victim to. Individually the paintings remain autonomous, but through each one there is a different purpose. There is an occasional glimpse of everyday life for Pritchard, especially in the painting, Barrel, which has a very English pasture color palette. The awkward, heavy form sitting in the middle of this canvas is pockmarked by singular dabs of paint and heavy brush strokes. In the painting Terrain, there is a transformation of an earthy ochre color into what appears to be copper. This masterfully painted canvas sits beautifully on its own.


    Throughout the entire exhibit, there is a wandering theme, which might be misinterpreted as unfocused. Collectively their greatest strength is an underlying investigation and intuitive search for something unknown and vulnerable. There is a playfulness that reminds me of Chris Martin. However, unlike Martin, Pritchard values a more traditional materiality in oil paint. This separates Pritchard in a distinctive way from other contemporary abstract painters. There is no appropriation of the painterly brush stroke here; it exists as a sincere testament of discovery.


    In my favorite painting, Stewart, Pritchard covers up the whole surface with rough almost tar-like, black brush strokes; what remains are tortilla chip-sized shapes that are burgeoning with pentimenti. It seems like there is an eruption underneath the canvas. This painting is quite simple, but there is a profound substance that lurks.


    These paintings are not beautiful per say, nor ugly. These paintings are functional. In comparison with painter Bill Jensen, Pritchard makes Jensen’s work feel aesthetic. There is a brute honesty that I can trust. It occurs to me that Pritchard has sabotaged all other professional options. These paintings are his last bastion. Again, in the painting, Stewart, there is great risk in covering up the whole surface with tar-like paint. This kind of usurpation does not feel contrived, though there is an ethical stance here. And then there is humor; they are more amused with themselves.


    The strongest paintings are a combination of sabotage and discovery. Their ham-fisted paint application is dutiful; it likens sometimes to Guston. However, these paintings feel fresh. I had always wanted to know what a Milton Resnick looked like right after it had just dried. Now with Pritchard’s paintings I also get an idea of what they smelled like too. Intoxicating!

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