Oil on canvas
76 x 72.75 in. (193.04 x 184.785 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
An improbable blend of irony, paradox, irreverence, and earnest philosophical inquiry underlies the work of Deborah Remington, who spent the first part of her career in California before moving to New York in 1965. Her formative years as a key figure in San Francisco’s avant-garde during the 1950s were crucial to developing the ideology that would sustain her for a lifetime. Remington began as an abstract expressionist under the tutelage of Hassel Smith, producing whimsical paintings that mocked the emotional excesses and high-own rhetoric of the New York School. She also played a central role in San Francisco’s artist-and-poet-run cooperatives of the beat era, and was a cofounder of the Six Gallery, the most influential venue for the city’s artistic underground. It was beat poet Gary Snyder who piqued Remington’s interest in Asian art and philosophy, leading her to Japan, where she studied classical and contemporary calligraphy.
All of these influences are apparent in Remington’s Balaton. With its crisp contours, immaculate surface, and monolithic frontality, this painting initially appears formalist and hard-edge, influenced by post-painterly abstractionists such as Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland. On closer inspection, however, the work is laden with paradox, offering a visual equivalent to the absurdist worldview of the writers who influenced Remington during this period, notably Ionesco, Alfred Jarry, Kafka, and Boris Vian. The mysteriously hypnotic Balaton is a prime example of Remington’s works composed along opposing vertical and bilateral axes, tenuously suspended in a highly poised dynamic balance. The palette, though minimal, also conveys unitary dualities, as critic Dore Ashton noted, conflating the sensations of “steely and cold and fiery and intense.” Remington’s painting further brings together organic and mechanical references as well as gender polarities. In sum, Balaton’s enigmatic qualities emphasize the inextricably linked dichotomies of the sexes and modern life.
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