Big Redux: Friedel Dzubas “Mural Paintings”

Crossing, 1975, Collection of Bank of America, Courtesy of Bill Fertik

Big Redux: Friedel Dzubas “Mural Paintings” at the Tower 49 Gallery (November 9, 2016 — April 2017) exhibits for the first time in 25 years Friedel Dzubas’s gargantuan Apocalypsis cum figuras: Crossing, 1975. At nearly 60 feet in length, it is among the largest continuous-weave abstract paintings created in the latter half of the 20th century. Commissioned by Lewis P. Cabot for the Shawmut National Bank of Boston in 1975, Crossing had been considered “lost” after it was de-installed at the bank’s closing in 1991. Crossing was finally rediscovered in 2014, in the Collection of the Bank of America Corporation, which is generously loaning the work to this exhibition.

Dzubas referred to Crossing specifically as a “mural painting,” but this hybrid category could just as well refer to the beauty and complexity of all of the works on display, for their expanses run from 17 to 25 feet in length. Artist Jackson Pollock in referring to his own “mural painting,” spoke for Dzubas’s mature aesthetic when in 1943 he stated “The direction that painting seems to be taking here is away from the easel, into some sort, some kind of wall-painting…. “Well, yes, [my canvases] are an impractical size – 9 by 18 feet. But I enjoy working big, and whenever I have a chance, I do it whether it’s practical or not.”

Friedel Dzubas’s large-scale colorscapes are celebrated as much for their arresting expressivity as for their massed dynamic shapes and dramatic coloration. In an astonishingly prolific career that spanned nearly five decades, Dzubas created a unique form of abstraction – fluid and roiling flights of color that extended the visual vocabulary of Post Painterly Abstraction or what came to be called Color Field painting. Drawing on the bold asymmetries and architectonic structures that signal the expansive canvases and monumental frescoes that inspired him – from Paolo Veronese to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to Franz Anton Maulbertsch – Dzubas’s resplendent art folds into its surfaces the floating, luminous spaces and rhythmic agitations that characterize art works from the late Renaissance to the Rococo.

Crossing, 1975, Collection of Bank of America, Courtesy of Bill Fertik

While startling pigments of 19th-century German Expressionist painters had affected his palette choices from an early age, a further animating influence on Dzubas’s achievements are the vigorous painterly gestures and the monumental scale of canvases by American Abstract Expressionists from the 1940s and 1950s to which he was exposed upon first arriving in America in 1939. This freedom of expressive markings, seemingly without traditional precedent, opened onto Dzubas’s own innate feeling for the intense hues and loose linearity that define his signature style in the 1950s. Under the sway of Post Painterly Abstraction in the 1960s, Dzubas created exquisitely rendered clean-edged pools of discrete chroma, which by the 1970s had exploded into vast processions of turbulent color fields – great phalanxes of contrasting hues that travel across the surface with unparalleled directional force reminiscent of the abandon with which Jackson Pollock, a friend and an early inspiration, deployed his artistic materials in all-over expressive gestures.

– Dr. Patricia L. Lewy, Director, Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives

The Estate of Friedel Dzubas is represented by the Loretta Howard Gallery.

For recent articles about Dzubas’s work, see the online essay by Dr. Patricia L. Lewy, Director, Friedel Dzubas Estate Archives, “Epic Abstraction,” on the occasion of the exhibition “Epic Abstraction: Friedel Dzubas in the 1970s, an exhibition in honor of his centennial, 1915-2015” at the Loretta Howard Gallery, 9 April – 9 May 2015, as well as the essay “Friedel Dzubas: Monumental Works” by independent curator, art critic and New York Studio School instructor Karen Wilkin. Dr. Patricia L. Lewy’s essay “Greenberg on Dzubas for was also published earlier this year.