Forward in Catalog of Muhlenberg Show


Recent Paintings by Paul King

“I visited Paul King’s studio in the summer of 2011, and found an artist deeply immersed in the dialogue of abstract painting. Evident in just about every work of art made by King is a back-and-forth conversation between the impulse to hold onto the tangibility of representation on one hand, and a process-oriented, gestural mode of

Dawn at Black River, 2012, 36 x 48″, Oil on Linen

abstract painting on the other. To engage with King’s painting is to participate in an endlessly fascinating dialogue that seems to find a new equilibrium with each work.

As an artist, King is a product of Philadelphia. If I were to have seen his paintings for the first time in any city around the world, I would have known that he was schooled in the 1970s at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts, where King teaches), because of his palette and his Zen approach toward overall patterning, reminiscent of the great Philadelphia painter Doris Staffel (born 1921), who was an anchor in the school’s painting department for decades. At the same time, it is apparent that King is a product of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which set him on the path of the figurative arts, giving him a strong backbone of historic reference and a tradition of making paintings as well-crafted objects that tell good stories. The inspiration of Academy professor Seymour Remenick (1923–1999) remains apparent in King’s painterly delicacy, as does the imprint of Sidney Goodman’s (born 1936) uncanny ability to make visual the symbolic resonance of the sexuality that underlies human encounters.

King’s paintings require time and contemplation and the reward to the viewer is an unfolding drama. Ms. B’s Room (2009), for example, reads as a knot of organic forms that suggest figures on a bed that twist and intertwine in carnal activity. The coiled energy of the figures is offset by a mad downward rush of orange-red paint below and a radiant application of orange-yellow above. The abstraction of the paint has its own life, and at the same time it emanates from the body-like forms, which are dominant. The relationship is reversed in Last Time (2011), which refers to memories of past physical encounters, with vague figurative forms suggested across the cradle of a low horizon. Here, expansive strokes of color dominate: geysers of warm yellow open and loosen as they shoot upward against a blue ground. Below, similar colors cohere into tight, craggy terrain.

King’s current practice, and his body of work in general, is settling into a dynamic place where the interplay between figuration and abstraction does not appear to be resolving itself in either direction. A recent painting, Exodus (2011) is a narrative, with figures traveling a cross a hostile and closed landscape of sorts on the left, and open free at right. Hero (2012), another recent work, offers no such linear reading. Here, King presents the viewer with a tangle of dark gray and black gestures that sweep together, suspended, dense, and off balance, floating in a feathery ground of warm yellow and white. Touches of red peek from behind and a dab of ochre sits on the surface, while a rhythm of vertical gestures in counterpoint make this tableau very satisfying in a dramatic way: a thin spill of white drips down from the upper edge, a welcome accident that somehow, as through serendipity, is the necessary answer to the deliberate, vertical strokes of boldest black that weave through the abstraction and provide structure to this thicket.

King’s work is a beguiling poetry of form and content, painterly gesture and figurative reference that satisfies in a deep way. To engage with these paintings is to embark on a journey that offers challenge and pleasure, and always seems to point toward the mysteries that connect the body and the mind.”

William R. Valerio
The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO
Woodmere Art Museum

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