The paintings of Harvey Quaytman (1937–2002) are distinct for their novel explorations of shape, drawing, texture, geometric pattern, and color application. While his works display a rigorous experimentation with formalism and materiality, they are simultaneously invested with rich undertones of sensuality, complexity, and humor. This new retrospective exhibition charts the trajectory of Quaytman’s work from the 1960s to the late 1990s, including more than seventy works from key points throughout his career.
Quaytman began his career in the early 1960s, making gestural abstract paintings inspired by Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky. His focus on the character and shape of brushstrokes eventually led him to develop a style in the late 1960s that blended minimalist abstraction with an interest in gesture—in color, movement, and tactility. In this sense, his wholly unique body of work resides at the junction of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Process art, and Constructivism—a place where considerations of line, distilled geometric forms, materiality, atmosphere, and texture all coalesce. The totality of Quaytman’s highly original body of work places him squarely within the tradition of modernist painting, yet it also proves him to be one of its most capable and unsung explorers.
Born in Far Rockaway, New York, to Polish Russian Jews, Quaytman came of age in the downtown art scene of New York in the 1960s—a time when painting itself was undergoing radical transformation in form, style, and concept. Committed to abstraction, Quaytman worked intuitively; one body of work led him to the next. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was propelled forward through his quest for the arc, as witnessed in his rarely seen curvilinear, shaped paintings. In the 1980s, he returned to a rectilinear format, but began to deconstruct it. Later, he committed himself to experimenting with the cruciform pattern, as a form rather than a symbol. Throughout it all he strove to keep the eye active across the canvas. “My entire enterprise,” he said, “is against [the] static.”