Back in the mid-'50s, Abstract Expressionism--by then an imperial international style-- began to develop a second generation that was largely rejected as mannered and lacking existential sincerity. Many of its artists went on working in honorable obscurity until last summer when an exhibition at the Newport Harbor Art Museum brought them belatedly back to California’s consciousness.
Among the participants was New Yorker Norman Bluhm, who now materializes again in about 10 recent ebullient abstractions. One, titled “Easter Morning,” is more than 23 feet long, but even his more conventional formats have expansive energy.
Bluhm is big on purply pinks, tangy fuchsias and exotic turquoises looping around in forms that look like floating, perfumed ectoplasm distilled from women painted by De Kooning and Picasso. Compositions like “Mermaid’s Delight” don’t really depict women, but they create the effect of sea sirens glimpsed while splashing up and down in the surf or female genies wafting away in colored smoke.
It’s hard to remember an artist more recent than Matisse who took such healthy and unself-conscious delight in the sensuous essence of women, a great rarity among American artists. (De Kooning’s women always seem threatening, idiotic or both.)
Bluhm manages to celebrate the spirit of, say, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” in abstract accents. The paintings are great fun in the best sense. Their decorativeness and expressive clarity are bracing. No one can argue that their originality extends beyond the expression of of a particularly engaging temperament, but they do prove that a combination of special sensibility and masterful painting can carry you a good long way. (Herbert Palmer Gallery, 802 N. La Cienega Blvd., to June 29.)