For artist Larry Poons, color has a life of its own

Larry Poons, a pre-eminent American artist who leapt to fame in the 1960s, is back in the Capital Re

Color is “a wild thing . . . it’s unmanageable,” says artist Larry Poons. Released from Poon’s brush, colors twist and sashay, then bump and embrace each other. Thin or thick, light and dark, his strokes of color, thousands of them, dance with abandon across stretches of canvas more than nine feet long.

Poons, a pre-eminent American artist who leapt to fame in the 1960s, is back in the Capital Region, with a solo exhibit of 12 recent paintings in the Esther Massry Gallery at The College of Saint Rose.

While any mention of the 72-year-old Poons must reference his role in America’s abstract art movement (he was known for optical art, colorful dots on grids), his current paintings can not be contained in any era.

‘Larry Poons: Recent Paintings’

WHERE: Esther Massry Gallery, The College of Saint Rose, 1002 Madison Ave., Albany.

WHEN: Through Sunday, March 21. Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday; and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed for spring break from Feb. 28 through March 7.

MORE INFO: 485-3902 or To see more of Larry Poons’ paintings, visit or

“Not many artists who enjoy great acclaim at a young age get better and better as they grow older. Poons has. At this junction, he is sans pareil,” says art critic Phyllis Tuchman, whose 2007 essay “Larry Poons: The Joy of Color” is posted outside the gallery.

Gallery director Jeanne Flanagan, who worked closely with the artist when he visited Saint Rose as the show was hung, says Poons is “so passionate about his painting. He never lost that edge.”

At the gallery door, glancing quickly at the big canvases, one might mistakenly think of Jackson Pollock. Move in closer, and those thoughts rush away in the depth of Poons’ exciting colors and the evidence that the action on these canvases is in the rhythm of the acrylic paint, not the arm of the artist. (Besides, the last Pollock I saw, at Williams College Museum of Art, impressive though it was, had lost much of its vibrancy.)

Poons’ paintings are fresh and timeless, and each is different.

Varied effects

“La Famiglia” is open and airy, the colors are soft, with room to breathe; while in “Duetto,” the paint is dense and tight. In another work, the paint ebbs and bares the top of the canvas, like the moment on a beach before the next wave rolls in.

With so many colors, one can’t describe a Poons palette, though in some canvases, we see concentrations of blue or green.

The mood, at least for this viewer, was uplifting and mentally stimulating.

A Manhattan resident with a studio in the northern Catskills, Poons was last in our area in 2000, when he had a solo show in the Perrella Gallery at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. In 1993, he lectured at Schenectady’s Union College and in 1991, he was part of a group show at Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass.

“He’s an interesting man,” said a petite, dark-haired young woman stationed in the gallery a few hours before the Feb. 5 reception, when the gallery was still quiet.

As reception time drew near, students gathered in the gallery to look at Poons’ paintings before the artist arrived.

“It radiates emotion,” said a tall female student with curly brown hair, standing before the painting “Salley Gardens.”

“Just react to what you see, that’s what he would want you to do,” Flanagan advised another student.

Following the reception, the feisty Poons delivered a stirring lecture, peppered with questions from art students; and as the audience exited, Saint Joseph’s auditorium was buzzing with commentary.

“Painting is color. You react to painting because of the color. That’s all there is. . . . Light and color are the same damn thing” said Poons, delivering his opinions in a forceful staccato.

A small man with thick gray hair, Poons explained how vision is “the best communication we have” because images travel to our brain at 180,000 miles a second. “From the eyes to the brain is shortest of the senses. Why? Because we are predators. If we can’t see, we’re dead. It’s survival. It’s quick.”

Poons, who attended the New England Conservatory of Music before studying at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art, dodged questions about his process, talking instead about Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Charlie Parker.

Perfection ‘second-rate’

“It’s all mistakes. I’m stuck with them and I’m OK with that. No artist has the slightest idea of what he’s doing!” he barked. “If you knew it was going to be a mistake, you wouldn’t do it. You have to learn to like what you do no matter what people think. Perfection is a second-rate idea.”

He also cast doubts on the value of art education, although he taught at Bennington College in the late 1960s and currently is a beloved lecturer at the Arts Student League in Manhattan.

“Thinking gets in the way of good art,” he said. “There are no rules. The trick is to let it happen and not get in the way.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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