Myron Stout at Washburn

Myron Stout at Washburn
Art in America
October, 2007
pp. 206-7

Myron Stout (1908-1987) was a slight, modest man who was known to his more famous and flamboyant friends—Ab-Exers and Pop artists—for the almost compulsively perfectionist quality of his small abstract drawings and paintings. He would work on some pieces for months or even years making only incremental adjustments, and one wonders if he ever really considered them finished. Many of the organic shapes in his exquisitely rich graphite drawings evoke the sensually rounded sculpture of Brancusi and Arp, while his paintings more often tend toward the geometric. This show of eight untitled paintings, all from the early fifties, concentrated on the latter: hard-edged and architectural, they betray Stout's interest in Mondrian.

All of Stout's works appear to be studies in energy, and where the graphite drawings are compact and implosive, like little bombs, the geometric paintings have a calculated asymmetry that causes them to appear as if they are always in motion. Some consist of frantically packed rectangles that one imagines converging on a point outside the picture frame, like twenty lanes of traffic racing toward a distant one-lane tunnel. The others are greatly simplified in what could be a magnified version of that concept, with the rectangles resembling slightly tilted skyscrapers that must lean on each other for support. The flat, unmodulated colors range from a multiplicity of softened primaries to earth tones, and Untitled, 1952 (April 17) employs only two—light warm ochre and dark umber—and the contrast in value creates an illusion where the patterns shift back and forth from foreground to background, so that the umber appears dominant, then the ochre, and so on. The only deficit in these paintings is that, being frugal, Stout often chose to work on canvasboard, a student-grade material that tends to absorb oil paint and therefore diminishes the medium's natural luminosity.

Also included were three Conte pencil line drawings of the brush-covered dunes that surrounded Stout's home in Provincetown. Looking rather like drawings any artist might make at Cape Cod, on their own they're not very exceptional, but it's enlightening, to consider that Stout was doing them at the same time he was so involved with geometry. Then again, everything Stout did is worth noting.

-Carol Diehl