In 1993, writing in ART TIMES, Raymond J. Steiner wrote an exceptionally thoughtful and generous critique of my work.
This material is copyright (c) 1993 by Art Times and posted here by permission.

Jonathan Talbot at Donskoj & Company
Donskoj & Company, 93 Broadway, Kingston, NY (914) 338-8473:
"Jonathan Talbot: Selected Works 1983-1993" (Sept 4-26).

I have never been especially drawn to those concoctions of mixed media which are presented under a variety of names: whether called collage, assemblage or "found object" sculpture, the lines always seem a bit fuzzy, the results somewhat suspect as bona fide works of art. Once accepted as a legitimate artform, the variations became limitless (as did the efforts to label them as this or that) and the blurring of boundaries subject to an endless corruption of gimmickry, cuteness and kitsch. Much of the so-called "outsider art," in fact, is an outgrowth of this propensity and any pile of objects, if only because of their being placed in one context, become "artworks." We have, indeed, come a long way from Kurt Schwitters' claim to being a painter who nails his pictures together, accepting today almost anything placed in juxtaposition as a work worthy of contemplation. It is somewhat in the sense of Schwitters' argument-i.e., that of true assemblage being akin to "painting with objects"-that I would place Jonathan Talbot's twenty of so works which make up this exhibit. Let me say at the outset that these are, indeed, works of "art," works that not only are worthy of contemplation but are aesthetic sources of delight as well. Not the least of their appeal is the skill with which each has been assembled, each displaying the hand of the artist as opposed to the tinkerer. Fine craftsmanship, however, has never been enough to raise the artifact into a work of art-and on this score, Talbot rarely misses the mark in offering us the real article. Painterly, lush, tonally harmonic and thoughtful, witty and intelligently brought together, his pieces seldom fail to please and to surprise. From a distance, they "work" as paintings, compositionally sound and, as noted above, sensitively harmonized in their use of color. This holds true for almost all of the works which range in size from intimate "miniatures" such as "Beach Party" to large, mural-sized works like "American Ringer." ("Ringer," incidentally, is a play on the word "wringer," made obvious by the fact that a piece of wood containing the words "The American Wringer" from such a machine is included in the work.) When viewed close up, one no longer confronts the "painter" but, instead, the thinker. The bits and pieces which make up a particular piece-say, for example, "Plate Du Jour"-are carefully composed of "food-related" objects which not only hold an inner discourse (often wittily) but, at times, with other pieces in the exhibit as well. This inter-connectedness among the disparate works is accomplished with similar objects "translated" into several different pieces-a small (mostly triangular-shaped) bit of wire grid, for example, the most common interchangeable item. Strangely, although this bit of wire mesh seems to inherently "apply" to the work at hand, it finds equal validity in an entirely different composition-not unlike a conjunction or preposition, say, will vary its nuance in accordance with literary content. In this connection, one enters the artist's mind, so to speak, and we are treated to the complexities of his thought-processes-his intellectuality, if you will. And make no mistake about it, these are intellectual "word games" and statements. So unobtrusive are these elements-puns, comments, paradoxes, etc.-however, that one must actually get up close and study them to "get" the point, joke, or lesson. In this respect, they lose their identities as paintings and become texts-much in the same manner as getting close enough to a painting to "read" the individual brushstrokes ("handwriting") of the painter turns a motif into a document. Thus, Talbot's works "read" on two levels with the "message" level often hinted at in the title. "The Sirens," for example, appears to be a relatively straightforward painting of a seascape, relatively calm and serene in its overall "blue" coloring. When one seeks the "sirens," however, they are not, strictly speaking, a part of the depicted scene at all but embedded in layers of dark blue sky, their outlines (heads only) barely coming through the surface, as if to say that sirens, if they do exist, are no more than ethereal figments of our imaginations. It is difficult to categorize Talbot's works under any one of the usual construction "genres"-"All That Jazz," for example, a "true" assemblage in that it contains a three-dimensional element in its center is markedly different from the small "Medicine Bundle," an "etching" that includes feathers, small beads and a piece of the ubiquitous wire grid as integral parts of its composition. He, in fact, "blurs the lines" considerably but in each case with exquisite aesthetic sensitivity and, almost never, for the sake of the medium itself. While Talbot rarely (if ever) gets "cute" or "gimmicky" with his constructions, he does indulge in whimsy here and there, interjecting a bit of "cheesecake" to lighten the intellectual load. "Florentine Encounter," for instance, sports a bosomy beauty which almost immediately draws the eye-the danger, of course, is to allow her to distract from the overall "message." All in all, this is one of the most engaging shows I've seen in quite a while-and whether you choose to stay in the center of the room for the simple visual charge or elect to get in close enough for the inevitable dialogue with the artist, you won't be disappointed. If you've missed this show keep the name of Jonathan Talbot in mind; you won't want to mix his next. - Raymond J. Steiner

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