David Novros: Reframing the Unframed at Paula Cooper Gallery

Installation view, David Novros, Paula Cooper Gallery. Photo: Steven Probert. 

David Novros: Selected Works

Paula Cooper Gallery (NYC)

May 11 - June 28, 2019


Three vertical windows appear to be incased within the landscape frame of Boathouse (2016) of David Novros, a thoroughly spellbinding painting that beckons to modernism’s fascination with flatness, only to circumvent that through the wizardry of laconic illusion stripped bare of semantic specificity. Boathouse concurrently gestures at non-representation and representation so as to do away with their anticipated thresholds. Inciting discursive text, this significantly scaled and composite painting that consists of seven canvas panels readily disseminates such dialectical pairs as painting/relief sculpture, painting/architecture, surface/support, inside/outside, presence/absence, flatness/depth, recession/protrusion, disegno/colorito, intrinsic/extrinsic and among endless many contraries, the ergon (work) and parergon (what is supplementary to the work, that is to say the frame—physical yet pertinaciously contextual as well). “Parerga have a thickness, a surface which separates them not only (as Kant would have it) from the integral inside, from the body proper of the ergon, but also from the outside, from the wall on which the painting is hung,” ruminates Jacques Derrida. “The parergon stands out [se détache] both from the ergon (the work) and from the milieu, it stands out first of all like a figure on a ground.”1 

David Novros, Boathouse, 2016. Oil and murano on canvas, 7 panels, overall dimensions approximately 11 by 20 feet. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © 2019 David Novros / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Steven Probert. 

Indeed, Boathouse unequivocally dissects the parergon, the frame, by slicing the outermost rectangular form horizontally at the pair of orange marks on each of its vertical sides in order for those two open spaces to serve as conduits that visibly and palpably reconnect the internal and external surfaces of the wall. And yet within the purely optical experience of the viewer, the presence of the wall as a form of empty flatness recurs with a rectangular rhythm produced by the inner panels, where the suggestion of the frame reappears through a certain degree of reference to linear perspective—particularly within the upper left corner of the central panel, where the intersection of the vertical and horizontal ochre bands subliminally produces the apparition of a diagonal line, somewhat of an orthogonal line segment evoking depth. As a phenomenon of coloristic perception, Novros here straightforwardly invites the beholder to consider the effect of the darker and lighter contrast values of the neighboring blues. 

Subsequently, sensation attempts to inform vision of the illusory potentiality of the flat surface through an aesthetics that nonetheless appears to be wholly in tune with Tableau 2 (1922) by Piet Mondrian of the Guggenheim Museum, one of the pivotal paintings of abstraction of the past century. In spite of the pure absence of figuration, this painting of Novros may conjure up compositional, formal and conceptual elements of such a formative painting as Presentation at the Temple (1342) of Ambroggio Lorenzetti at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the architecture depicted within the absorbing Marriage of the Virgin (1500-1504) of Perugino at Musée des Beaux-Arts in Caen or the three windows in The Last Supper (1490s) of Leonardo da Vinci at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The lower and left sides of the window in Albrecht Dürer’s Self Portrait (1498) of the Prado Museum in Madrid are also transitorily suggested within the inner panels of Boathouse—albeit inverted here. As the viewer approaches Boathouse to inspect its materiality, the so-called black, navy, orange, grey, blue, ochre and rust colors offer a sense of fluidity upon the panel edges, as if layers of paint were to announce the painting’s hesitance of absolute, monochromatic flatness—the impression received from a far distance. 

David Novros, Phoenix, June-September 2018. Oil on canvas, 3 panels, each: 80 by 40 inches, overall: 80 by 120 inches. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © 2019 David Novros / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Steven Probert. 

The three panels of Phoenix (2018) contain primarily rectangular forms in a range of hues, inviting the observer to reflect upon coloration through such notions as proximity, color weight, space, figure, ground and perhaps most arrestingly luminosity—a phenomenon that is here attached to color theories that continue being investigated and transformed: from Isaac Newton’s color wheel to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s phenomenological Theory of Color to Michel Eugène Chevreul’s statement that “two adjacent colors, when seen by the eye, will appear as dissimilar as possible.”2 Phoenix of Novros also invites us to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s reflection on color, one that remains open to Goethe’s subjectivist approach and yet submits it to inexhaustible degrees of complexity. Perhaps it is the discourse surrounding Michel Albert Vanel’s “Planetary” color system of 1983 that lends itself as a viable reading of Phoenix: while there are almost infinitely many possibilities of color combination and perception, “the everyday sensation of color still centers on a few main color groups, and can thus be represented by planets, orbited by numerous small moons. This is a multidimensional color space.”3 As a shade of white frames groups of rectangular arrangements of various pulsating hues in Phoenix, the painting evokes the constantly shifting scientific and psychological principles of color, as if reframing theories and sensations of color systems—only to unframe them as well. 

David Novros, K, 2017. Oil and murano on canvas, 3 panels, overall dimensions approximately 112 1/2 (h) by 80 1/2 (w) by 1 1/2 inches. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © 2019 David Novros / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Steven Probert. 

Titled through a single letter, K of Novros consists of three vertical panels displaying abstract, geometric bars that uncannily give rise to the suggestion of the capital letter F appearing twice, as if beckoning at the word “frame.” Despite the senselessness of making such a specious association that reduces the autonomy of abstraction to a given letter of the alphabet, the frame maintains its legitimacy as a physical support that has adorned paintings in the past mainly through ornamental motifs and has presently taken on a minimalist form—if not even being purely absent and yet virtually impossible not to be there as a limit of a given pictorial surface or physical entity. This painting of Novros seems to be suggesting that the absence of the frame can by no means annul its presence, for insofar as there is a physical edge to the surface or a coloristic edge upon the surface, it attests to the presence of the frame: physical, conceptual, contextual, aesthetic frames.

David Novros, NW, 2019. Oil on canvas, overall: 123 by 98 by 2 inches. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © 2019 David Novros / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Steven Probert. 

In this exhibition, painting as a representation of architecture reaches one of its utmost heights in NW (2019) of Novros. As if pointing at the enduring arch structures that were increasingly developed within ancient Roman house constructions, temples, bridges, aqueducts and triumphal arches, NW consists of three panels that are subdivided into proximate coloristic parts in various shades of ultramarine, dark brown and dark grey. The pulsating coloration of this painting emanates a sensation of meditative effect and somatic absorption. Whereas Boathouse mediates physical flatness through the horizontal splits of its frame, NW conveys a sense of multi-planarity and perspective through the outer edges of its left and right panels that are angled subtly upon the upper part of the painting and emphatically upon the lower sides. Through its ravishing, evocative coloration and resolute illusionism based on geometric articulations of planarity, NW comes across as an accretion of the formalist elements of Mondrian’s abstract compositions, Yves Klein’s monochromatic palette and the histories of the arch and relief sculpture. An archaeological model of visual reinvention, NW imparts the sensation of the Hegelian Geist that has the suggestion of both mind and spirit, two lexical classifications that have become transferred over to the domain of psychoanalysis. Through design and coloration, this architecturally modeled painting of Novros transcends its physicality, encapsulating an immaterial sensibility.

Nicolas Poussin, Self-Portrait, 1649-50. Oil on canvas, 38 1/2 by 29 inches. Courtesy of Musée du Louvre, Paris.

While the formal elements of DB (2016) of Novros retain the multi-panel aspects of Boathouse, this six-panel work brings forth instances of distinctive characteristics that come closer to that of NW, for DB manifests a duality of abstract structures that operate as references to assertive versus barely visible forms, virtually setting the physical alongside the immaterial, substance alongside the transubstantiated. The lower and upper parts of DB interchangeably appear to summon an ontological message of body and mind—interchangeably because the upper section brings forth a sense of immateriality on the level of its ethereal coloration, yet it remains self-enclosed in comparison to the five lower parts that manifest themselves as cutouts of a Euclidean rectangle in shades of opulent dark brown and mystical black. Through layers of color that articulate linear fragments of geometric forms in interchanges with the vacant spaces of the wall, Novros frames, unframes and reframes presence and absence. He frames absence through the physical presence of hues adorning the ergon-cum-parergon, thus materializing the frames represented within the engrossing Self-Portrait (1649-50) of Nicolas Poussin at the Louvre. No longer existing as illusionistic entities layered behind the restrained artist firmly holding his sketchbook, Novros seems to have extracted and objectified the coloristic frames of Poussin as subjective gestures of imaginative possibilities that connect the spectator to the artwork openly and poetically through the aesthetic context of our time. This wholly open rhetoric of David Novros is one particularized syntax of contemporary painting, a syntax that is nonetheless inescapably framed through tangible visual treasures of remote and close pasts—a “finality without end.”4 WM


1. Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting (1978), trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 60-61. 

2. Narciso Silvestrini and Ernst Peter Fischer, Color Systems in Art and Science, ed. Klaus Stromer and Urs Baumann, trans. Randy Cassada (Constance: Regenbogen Verlag, 1996), p. 73. This book was published on the occasion of an exhibition curated by Klaus Stromer and held at Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery at Hunter College, New York, November 5 through December 7, 1996.

3. Silvestrini and Fischer, p. 207.

4. Derrida, p. 68.

Raphy Sarkissian

Raphy Sarkissian received his masters in studio arts from New York University and is currently affiliated with the School of Visual Arts in New York. His recent writings on art include essays for exhibition catalogues, monographs and reviews. He has written on Rachel Lee Hovnanian, Anish Kapoor, KAWS, David Novros, Sean Scully, Liliane Tomasko, Dan Walsh and Jonas Wood. He can be reached through his website www.raphysarkissian.com.

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