Larry Poons – Contemporary Artists Series
Artists simply don’t stop. Even when time catches up with them, when wisps of white hair begin to form and their friends are retiring, they keep on going. They respond in kind to Seneca’s call to arms for us to view old age as a chance to keep on working, to keep on producing. Larry Poons may be approaching 80, but he shows no signs of halting his formidable output. He lives to paint, just like Dostoevsky lived to write and Beethoven lived to compose. Artists, of any kind, be they musicians, painters or writers, keep going until the end, unable to resist the urge to create that consumes them. They don’t retire. When the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee knew that death was not far away, his output in a single year grew considerably.
Like all good painters, Poons has kept things fresh over the years, never staying still, always experimenting. His early work tentatively embodies the spirit of op art, a carefully calculated and impersonal abstract style that rose from the ferocious ashes of the elitist, primitive abstract expressionist movement. Poons, not even thirty years old, quickly achieved fame for his minimal paintings of small shapes, circles and ovals on vibrant backgrounds. But op art was clearly too formal, too rigid for Poons, and before he had even hit thirty, he left it behind for a foray into a style that was more akin to abstract expressionism. His work became more painterly, more free. It began to look more personal, allowing the spectator to become more involved. It was more spontaneous.
Still in his young, experimental days, he abandoned the brush, converting his debt to Pollock into something tangible. He threw paint at his canvases, thereby flaying his psyche at it in great lumps. His energy was unrestrained, he painted with dynamism and expression. His work of this period was related to lyrical abstraction, his influences became clear – Cezanne, Matisse, De Kooning, and the aforementioned Pollock. What began to emerge was a painter clearly enthused by colour and texture. Like the abstract expressionists, he painted monumental canvases where his own presence was added to by the sheer physicality of the painting. His colourful, gigantic works would be dominating and oppressive were they not so luminous. Indeed, commentators have highlighted his ‘feminine’ approach to painting.
Now, he has returned to the brush, a move that has delighted his critics and fans alike. It isn’t a move that has seen him go quite the full circle. His paintings of old contained more deliberation, more exactitude and restraint in their colourful patterns. To use an analogy, his tentative dot paintings were reminiscent of the old, 8-bit Atari computer games. His work now, fully fledged, fully developed, is more 360 bit Xbox. His obsession with colour and pattern remains, but his execution and delivery is more sophisticated. At 76, and showing no signs of slowing down, he’s been exhibiting new work this year, and whilst the palette he has chosen to work from is remarkably constrained and limited to a few choice colours, the results are really an examination of what you can do within certain self-imposed means.