Nicolas Carone Shows He’s Still Unsurpassed On the Female Nude

by Hilton Kramer

It was not to be expected that a great many people in the New York art world would recognize the name of the American painter Nicolas Carone, whose works on paper were recently the subject of a very engaging exhibition at the Lohin Geduld Gallery in Chelsea. Mr. Carone is now 88 years old, and his work has not been exhibited here since the 1960’s. Yet in his heyday, which preceded the emergence of the Pop and Minimalist movements, he was a greatly admired figure in the ranks of American modernists—a representational painter schooled in the aesthetic innovations of Hofmann, Pollock and de Kooning.

He belongs to a generation that had to work its way through the challenges of Abstract Expressionism before it could return to figuration with a renewed perspective. In that endeavor, Mr. Carone’s greatest asset was always his draftsmanship: drawing that’s classical in spirit, yet radically modernist in the expressive liberties it brings to his depiction of the most classical subject of all, the nude female figure.

Foremost among those liberties is the pictorial dynamism that characterizes every one of his works on paper. There’s nothing posed or static in Mr. Carone’s drawings and paintings of the figure. Every touch and gesture is charged with an expressive intensity, whether the image is focused on a single figure or on a group of figures.

Among the drawings and paintings in the show at Lohin Geduld, a few were especially notable for the Ingres-esque line that insinuates itself into the composition. This is not, I think, a direct appropriation of Ingres, but is derived rather from de Kooning’s references to Ingres. There’s quite a lot of Ingres—a fractured Ingres, so to speak—in certain phases of de Kooning’s work, and quite a lot of de Kooning in Mr. Carone’s work.

What all of this recalls for us is the centrality of the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic, even for artists who return to representation in their work. Where the decision has been made to abandon abstraction in favor of representation, certain pictorial issues often remain unresolved.

A further complication in Mr. Carone’s drawings and paintings is the artist’s fondness for Cubist structures even in work that’s primarily figurative. The Abstract Expressionists never resolved their relation to Cubism and could never fully abandon Cubism either, and Mr. Carone’s art still shows traces of that dilemma.

However problematic his work may sometimes be, with its divided loyalties to tradition and innovation, Mr. Carone’s principal strength as an artist remains his great command of drawing. With virtuosic draftsmanship of this quality, he can be forgiven the sometimes-confused references to the traditions that have nurtured his art.

© Estate of Nicolas Carone 2012 (except in case of previous copyright)