CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 7/11/2013
We see a lot of books around here, and every once in a while something pops up that surprises us all. This season, the current staff favorite is Marquand Books' new monograph on the Los Angeles cult painter, Albert Contreras. Below is Dave Hickey's Foreword and a selection of images from the book.
By Dave Hickey
Albert Contreras is one of the best painters in the world. Not only that, he deserves to be. He rode the whole rollercoaster from Los Angeles, to Mexico City, to Madrid and penultimately to Sweden, where he was a painter to be reckoned with for a decade, until he drove his minimalist agenda into a corner and quit painting for twenty-five years. He returned to Los Angeles in 1972 and then to painting early in this century. In this sense, Contreras’ career has a transient, cosmopolitan messiness that is analogous to that of Alfred Jensen, although a sane Alfred Jensen. What we see today in Contreras’ lost twenty-five years is a gradual harboring of reserves, an escalating maturity enhanced by the enthusiasm of a re-awakened teenager. Now he can do everything a teenager can’t, and bring to that accumulated skill the ebullient urgency of youth.
"Untitled" (1971), acrylic/canvas, 18x18 inches.
What I like most about Contreras’ paintings is that they are in series but not in sequences. Over the past ten years, he has rejuvenated the modest square that was so thoroughly assassinated by Joseph Albers. Should glamour, glitter or gesture fall to hand he never hesitates. In the process, Contreras paints families of paintings. One painting never updates another or renders a previous one obsolete. This is one of the gifts of maturity. Young painters develop. Mature painters dance, within the limits of a motif; each of the paintings in one of Contreras’ families bears a jostling, sibling relationship to one another.
"Untitled" (1998), acrylic/canvas, 20x26 inches
I know this because I never can pick. I want the whole family. I always want to buy a bunch of them, partly because they talk to one another but finally because Contreras’ level of excellence is so high and so steady. You never know how good they are because he so rarely makes a bad one—and, even then, you suspect it might be a good one in the long run. This also explains why Contreras is not as famous as he should be, because critics always want to say this is better than that, and Contreras is as short of failures as he is of peers. The twenty-five-year hiatus doesn’t help either, of course, but this makes his return all the more encouraging, because you want a painting that has to be there. You want a painting that arises from some sort of moral necessity, which steps with a confident smile into the hostile marketplace, and if you want that, Contreras would be your guy.
"Untitled" (2005), acrylic/canvas, 20x24 inches.
"Untitled" (2009), acrylic/panel, 20×24 inches.
"Untitled" (2009), acrylic/panel, 20x24 inches.
"Untitled" (2011), acrylic/panel, 36x36 inches.
"Untitled" (2011), acrylic/panel, 20x40 inches.
Hbk, 9.25 x 11 in. / 112 pgs / 77 color.
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