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Bill Pangburn at ARTEGO Gallery

by Jonathan Goodman, April 9, 2024

Image: 7 Drawings #7, 2009; watercolor and gouache; 80 x 40 inches

Bill Pangburn, recently the head of the Shiva Gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is now concentrating on his art alone. His show at ARTEGO Gallery, an innovative space located in Queens, was well curated by Soojung Hyun, an independent curator. The offering of prints and paintings, often leaning toward Asia, where Pangburn has traveled considerably, was remarkably fluent – water is regularly a theme, and also the productions of the New York School (Pangburn has lived in the city for decades) are noted.


The expansiveness and lyric bent of Pangburn is evident from the start. His poetic abstractions, often in the form of vertical scrolls, address our need for something beautiful to see, especially in a city where life is visually chaotic, and the streets thoroughly littered. Pangburn is very much a New York City artist, living in Tribeca and maintaining a studio in P.S. 122. His art continues the still-active dialogue painters keep up with abstract expressionism. Still, his impulse also finds an idiom deeply influenced by the arts of East Asia, whose works about nature have made a deep impression on him.


In the good-sized space of the gallery, the first impression of the viewer might well have been an abstract treatment of water. Gently undulating vertical lines give the impression of a waterfall in several of the larger vertical works; they demonstrate the artist’s deep commitment to the portrayal of nature – even if he lives in the city’s asphalt and concrete downtown! We must remember, too, that his vision is pretty thoroughly abstract. So it is not hard to see generally in the work the lasting tradition of New York non-objective art.


Day and Night (2018), two separate prints considered a diptych, occupy an end wall of the rectangular space.  Day, on the left side, is a long, hanging scroll with black curving strokes that run the length of the paper but are separated from each other by stripes of equal width and lighter color. Some of these strips have lighter, curving strokes of black. Night, on the right, echoes Day, but in reverse: in this work, the background is black, with silver. Again, the stripes alternate in tonal intensity. The overall sensation is one of falling rain or, equally, a vision of curvilinear abstraction. The Asian influence is overt.

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Hudson Beiseite 3-9, 2018; watercolor and gouache; 26.75 x 20.25 inches

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Crete-10, 2014; watercolor and gouache; 8 x 6 inches

The next work, part of a group called 7 Drawings (2009) is an excellent continuation of New York’s extended tradition of abstraction. The composition presents three thick black lines that offer mostly gentle but, occasionally, sharply curved, ribbons of paint ( their direction is vertical). Underneath them are cloud-like areas of slate blue, which mass together but do not entirely crowd out a bright first background.


Pangburn’s colors change slightly with Crete (2014), a country he has visited several times over the years. This picture offers a background of pink and orange shapes, lacking a defined form, on the outer part of the roughly edged-paper. In the center, one finds similar shapes in yellow. On top of these amorphous colorations is a roiling coil of thin, light blue stripes that twist and curl like spaghetti. Both the thin strands and the difficult-to-describe passages of color beneath refer to Western art conclusively. Perhaps Pangburn, being interested in other cultures, finds inspiration in an ancient Greek background, although the quote is not exact. 


Hudson Currents 5 (2018), another striped print, has slight vertical undulations of pink; they are placed on alternating stripes of black and white. Like the other scrolls in the show, the composition is framed by a white border extending a couple of inches away from the image. It is clear that Pangburn likes this format a lot; it is also evident that his appreciation of East Asian culture is a permanent part of his imagination. But the stripes, and the looping verticals of the lines on top of them, also belong very much to his engagement with late modernism.


Good art knows both the past and the present (the future cannot yet be determined!). Pangburn, now a mature artist, has traveled a lot, and in this show made good his acquired information. By quoting, not closely but generally, imageries from both the archaic and the recent past, he avails himself of the scaffolding constructed before him. This gives his art a weight that a narrow quotation from long ago would lack. At the same time, Pangburn is entirely fluent in the idiom of contemporary art. The combination is excellent. 

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