In the hallowed canon of American abstract expressionists, the name Esteban Vicente is rarely included. And yet the Spanish-born artist—who moved to New York in 1936—put down roots in this country amidst the members of the New York School, participating in their seminal exhibitions at the Samuel Kootz, Sidney Janis, and Charles Egan Galleries, earning representation by ab-ex patron Leo Castelli, and later going on to found the New York Studio School, where he taught for 36 years.
Assembled at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, a new exhibition of Vicente’s late works brings his signature touch to light, and offers a compelling introduction to the stunning oeuvre of this under-recognized modern artist. These paintings are shaped by a fine spatial sensibility, a nuanced understanding of color inflection, and a complex dynamic between positive and negative space, as broad swathes of color are punctuated by sharply jutting forms that appear at once to surge forward into the viewer’s space and to recede into the ground. Warm ochers and burnt siennas are common, mingling against grey-blue expanses that both absorb and reject them. In NYC Landscape (1997), warm vertical forms rise from the bottom of the frame, dissipating into a vibrant yellow glow like the flash of a setting sun.
Although gestures are nestled and couched within and among one another, their colors remain distinct and singular. They are active, to be sure: traces of the artist’s impulse, external manifestations of inner movement. And yet they have shape and structure; they move with a thoughtful, intentional rhythm rather than a frenetic energy. Viewed together, these late paintings explain precisely why Vicente always defied classification: simultaneously challenging new forms with bold, aggressive gestures, while allowing delicate modulations of color to creep across the canvas like early morning light.
Esteban Vicente is on view at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe, New York, Dec. 16, 2014–Jan. 31, 2015.