Installed in a small rear gallery at Stephen Haller, eight early collages by Larry Zox (1937-2006) offer an intimate and rare glimpse into the process, method, and ultimate evolution that lead up to the American artist’s celebrated geometric abstractions.
With “Larry Zox: Collage Paintings from the 1960s,” thick card stock and heavy paper is torn, painted, and aggressively stapled to wood board. The raw spontaneity and brute force of these pieces suggest Abstract Expressionism’s influence, evoking the patterned spatial illusions of a Hans Hofmann and the jagged layers of color prominent in the work of Clyfford Still. Various tiers of paper can be found crinkling and warping under the veracity of the staples, while drops of paint drip and smear across a vast surface.
No ordinary assemblage of paper and paint, Zox’s collages operate with a visual impression of depth that is constantly in flux. With foreground dissolving into background and background hurtling into foreground, large works like Banner (1962)–a bold construction containing pointed strips of black paper stacked against layers of blood red and off-white–and Untitled (1961)–a somber mixture of velvety blacks and dark greens fastened in contrast to a desert of yellow-tinged cream–demand that we reconstitute our creaturely notions of time and distance. Both Banner and Untitled exploit the contrasting treatment of color and line to create windows of unforeseen pattern, a motif that would later reappear in Zox’s more refined paintings.
Unlike the bright, ultra polished, and diagonally dominated archetype of his later work, Zox’s collages feel playful in their gritty emancipation from procedure. Though physically smaller than the other pieces on display (only measuring between 11x11½ and 16x16 inches), the stark concentration of color in Untitled (1962)–a muted sea of textured grey, black, and blue–and the rough, exposed skeleton of Untitled (1961)–a gridded barrier of tomato-red and egg-yolk colored paper–dominate the scene. The eager juxtapositions of shape and line, governed by the overzealous use of staples, suggest an unrestrained candor that either went adrift in Zox’s later paintings, or else was very consciously concealed.
Images: Untitled, 1961; Untitled, 1961; Untitled, 1962. Courtesy Stephen Haller Gallery.