In 1952 the critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term Action Painting to describe the work of artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. If only history had stuck with his designation, which so explicitly addresses their all-over gestural canvases as the record of a physical event, we’d have the perfect category into which to nestle the work of James Hickey. (Add to that Nikki de Saint Phalle’s gunshot paintings and the bodily work of the Japanese group Gutai, and voilà, art history remix!) Hickey’s thick, encrusted paintings bulge with edge-to-edge color and texture, and while some give a hazy sense of flaming fire or reflecting water or even landscape, primarily they are the hard evidence of physical exertion. On the reverse of one whose pinks, blues and reds might’ve come straight from the tube, Hickey writes about transfers of energy. Indeed, more than anything else, that is what he produces: transfers of energy from person to canvas through the gesture of painting—with brush, with trowel, it hardly matters. Somehow the paint must get up there, and there’s a body that needs to do it.

—Lori Waxman 11/13/16 2:22 PM
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