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March 18, 2014

Last Look: Artist Harvey Quaytman at McKee Gallery

By Sasha Levine | Art

Warsaw Thirds, Harvey Quaytman
Warsaw Thirds, 1986. Acrylic and rust on canvas, 68.6 × 68.6 cm / 27 × 27 in. Collection of Elizabeth Rea, Connecticut; © www.phaidon.com.

On February 19, a crowd of friends and family gathered at McKee Gallery (745 Fifth Ave.; 212-688-5951; mckeegallery.com) to open the latest exhibition of abstract painter Harvey Quaytman and to celebrate the release of the artist’s first-ever eponymously titled monograph published by Phaidon.

Fêted for his palette—vibrant colors, textural materials (rust, glass, beads)—his creation of lush surfaces and his shaping of sculptural canvases, Quaytman began producing his hard-edge modernist works on the Bowery in the 1960s. Propeller shapes, bands, blocks and cross-like forms appear throughout his geometric paintings, which have been shown in upwards of 60 solo shows in galleries around the world (New York, San Francisco, Paris, Zurich, Stockholm and Sydney among them).

While his inspirations include Gorky and de Kooning, Malevich and Mondrian, his work—as friend and critic Dore Ashton writes in the book’s preface—“always displayed an independence that made it feel difficult for commentators to ‘place’ him.”

“Harvey was a droll, pipe-smoking, very slow-moving, wine-drinking lover of food, classical music, constructivism, model airplanes and women,” remembers friend and gallerist Renee McKee, whose showcase of Quaytman’s work closes this Saturday, March 22. “He could be charming and lovable then caustic and insulting. He was not a theoretician. He was a romantic hedonist at the same time that he scoffed at bourgeois ‘things.’”

While Quaytman may not be as well known as some of his contemporaries, the 143-page monograph exploring four decades of his work may help to change that. “In the old days we would say he was ahead of his time,” said art critic and author Robert C. Morgan the night of the exhibit opening. “I hope we can say that again.” Phaidon.com.