The Democracy of Abstraction

Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9-69)” (2019), oil on linen on panel 22 × 28 inches (all images © Thomas Nozkowski, courtesy Pace Gallery)

Thomas Nozkowski (1944–2019) never hedged his bets. One bet was that abstract painting did not have to be elitist; it could be as open to subject matter as Andy Warhol supposedly was. The difference is that Nozkowski was not interested in the second-hand experiences we all supposedly share. He believed that each person’s experience of the everyday was fundamentally unique and set out to honor that in his work.

By 1974, when making large-scale paintings had become commonplace, and subject matter had largely been banished from abstraction in favor of paint-as-paint, he had formulated an alternative approach based on two conclusions. First, he decided to work on a 16-by-20-inch format using prepared canvas boards, which are available in any art supply store, implicitly rejecting the masterpiece tradition and the belief in the artist as a heroic figure.

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