You might expect that the strongest works by any given artist would land within the central tendencies of that artist’s style, but the show of paintings and sculpture by the late Edgar Ewing, now on display at Sullivan Goss through June 3, seems to defy that theory.
The core of Ewing’s work, at least as represented by this exhibition, is a set of paintings done between the mid 1950s and early ‘70s. They appear to be an attempt to make Picasso and Matisse get along on a single canvas, with some of the whimsy of Saul Steinberg thrown in. The works depend heavily on strong contrasts, either of value or between highly saturated complementary colors (red and green, blue and orange), perhaps inspired by the rediscovery of Caravaggio during those years. They also employ the sort of heavy impasto produced by strong application of paint with a palette knife. Generally, they seem very much like the sort of paintings that one would have hung over a high-class billiard table; in fact, one of the paintings, “Billiard Room, San Simeon Series,” features a billiard table with a recognizable painting by Ewing himself hung on the wall behind it.
If you consider the less typical Ewings, though, you start to get a sense of the artist’s range. “Desert Land Near Jerome Arizona” and “Near Jerome Arizona,” two lyrical works on paper from 1959, show how much Ewing can do in a minimalist vein with contrast and shape. “Three Bishops” and “Two Women at Windows” hit just the right note of playful wit in their referencing of historic works of art. “Pythic Porism,” a prismatic painting in tones entirely unlike the others, impresses for its gentle, even soothing variation of color. None of these works has much in common with the others, or with the handful of other outliers in the show. Nonetheless, in these works the artist shows himself to be capable of great subtlety and an aesthetic that is likely to stand the test of time.