Steven Mark Glatt and the Majesty of Melancholy

My work comes from a place that few people get to visit,” says Steven Mark Glatt, whose paintings will be on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from January 8 through 29, 2010, with a reception on Thursday, January 14, from 6 to 8 PM. “This place is blessed and cursed.”

Because he was raised in the back country of North Dakota, is self-taught, and can make such a statement without any apparent irony, there could be a tendency to classify Glatt as something of an “outsider.” However, the innate sophistication of his large Color Field paintings in acrylic on canvas belies that evaluation, since Glatt’s vision is far too expansive to be confined to the ghetto of innocent obsession. And while he has arrived at that vision intuitively and without pretension (“My approach towards painting is simple. I just paint myself. I stay true to my feelings and use honesty as my main ingredient.”), it resonates with a spiritual authenticity which reminds us that abstract painting originated not with formalist theorizing, but with the desire of Kandinsky and other avant garde pioneers who were inspired by Theosophy and other esoteric belief systems, to apprehend some essential essence of the unknown.

Seemingly searching in a similar way, Glatt employs a poured paint technique and manipulates diluted pigment with his fingers, creating ethereal veils of color that could appear to have materialized of their own accord, rather than to have been created by conscious will, on his large canvases. The sense that one is being drawn into a mysterious milieu can give even the most pragmatic viewer pause and make him or her consider the artist’s statement about a place both blessed and cursed.

For Glatt’s paintings possess an undeniable presence and power paradoxically coupled with great delicacy. His forms are at once abstract and allusive, as seen in the poetically titled large canvas “A Crown Upon Her Foot,” in which deep purple linear swirls around the outer edges of the canvas veering toward its center could suggest tree limbs set against a vibrant blue sky swarming with stars resembling celestial fireflies. Even while the overall nonobjective character of the composition allows for a range of subjective interpretations as infinite as the space that it evokes, one is put in mind of William Blake’s famous line “The sky is an immortal tent.” For like that great British visionary, Glatt appears to have a gift for internalizing vast mysterious vistas, as seen in “The Mistakes I Make,” another majestic canvas wherein rhythmically pulsing veins within another luminous blue field lend cosmic dimension to personal emotion.

Then there is “Bottles of Emptyness,” a title worthy of a country and western song for a composition organized along more formal lines, with Glatt’s characteristically fluid color field––this one of a mottled reddish hue appropriately suggesting a mixture of whiskey and blood––overlaid by evenly spaced vertical divisions.

Of course, no one can really know if there is any truth to the meanings he or she reads into paintings as essentially abstract as those of Steven Mark Glatt. Yet there is no question that since they are clearly motivated by the artist’s authentic emotions, every perceptive viewer will discover his or her own truth in these lyrical works.

––Maurice Taplinger

Image Credits: The Birds Don't Sleep Anymore, Acrylic on Canvas, 80" x 72"

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