Ronald Markman’s painted wood collages are filled with an unrelenting, raucous, slapstick humor. Using imagery inspired by comic strips and cartoons, Markman offers a series of “stilllifes” (as he insists on calling them) that overflow with an assortment of objects, both real and of Markman’s own manufacture. Much of the narrative content contained in these works derives from the artist’s imaginary world of Mukfa which has been explored extensively in Markman’s earlier art.
Stilllife With Clock (1980) typifies the collages on view. Here, a functioning circular quartz wall clock presides over an elaborate series of jokes centering on the theme of time that would do an old vaudevillian proud. While “The Poc Poc Press” (the official newspaper of Mukfa) announces that “Time Marches On,” the viewer is presented with outworn visual puns such as a clock held in a hand to illustrate time on one’s hands. Another work, Stilllife at Hicksville (1982), alludes playfully to Edward Hicks’ The Peaceable Kingdom by means of window shutters that open from a quiet living room interior onto a jungle scene teeming with exotic animals.
As pointed out in the videotape available at the gallery, Markman’s unfettered flights of fancy often draw on childhood memories. This Is reflected in Stilllife With Letters (1981) in which an old table radio blares the latest Dow Jones figures, emitting them in a cartoon bubble.
All of Markman’s collages display a riotous confusion of pattern, texture, and color in combinations that are not unattractive. The jigsawed wooden shapes with which he builds his collages are reminiscent of old-fashioned wooden puzzles, but in this case, nothing fits together smoothly. Markman’s good-natured jumbles are deceptively simple, however, and one is reminded of this by the old song playing in the background of the videotape: “It Ain’t What You Do—It’s How You Do It.” (Terry Dintenfass, March 27-April 22)
Ronald Markman’s sprightly domestic scenes, wall pieces built up of painted wood cutouts, show he’s paid close attention to comic strips, and also to the early works of Picasso and Braque. In lesser hands, the combination might not work, but—wildly mixing colors, scales, textures, dimensions, perspectives, illusion and reality—he brings it off with verve. Puns abound. In “Still Life With Letters,” for instance, a round table, seen in flat perspective, bears, partly cantilevered off its edge, an open book, a cup of coffee, a crossword puzzle, a patchwork of fabrics, a cactus plant and some airmail letters, all in 2-D, and a round red dimensional wooden apple, the whole superimposed on the small cut-out figures of a very trendy man and woman. A real pencil lies on the table, along with a few dimensional alphabet letters and a cut-out head of Romaine lettuce (get it?)
RONALD MARKMAN (Dart, 155 E. Ohio St.): Markman taught color at the Art Institute from 1960 to 1964. One of his students was Jim Nutt, whose chromatic intensity and mosaiclike surfaces reflect the teacher’s influence. This has not been acknowledged, so far as I know; but now that the Imagist lobby has weakened, perhaps Markman will be accorded his place.
The artist’s painted wood reliefs display an interest in folk art, vernacular decoration, and comic book culture. All this comes together in concentric rectangles and triangles that bear additional references to other painters.
Markman might poke fun at his teacher, Josef Albers, or Gene Davis or Jasper Johns, but the humor is very gentle. It also is a single element in works of prodigal invention. Puns, caricatures, abstract patterns, and busy constructed passages elbow each other in a visual hurly-burly not without charm. However, a little of it goes a long way, and small doses are recommended. (Through April 1.)
Ronald Markman, the long-neglected father of Chicago imagist painting, has a splendid show of his “assembled” paintings at the Dart Gallery, 155 E. Ohio, through April 1. From 1960 to 1964, Markham (sic) taught Imagists-to-be in the School of the Art Institute, before taking his present post at Indiana University. As rich as Persian miniatures and as complex as Oriental rugs, Markham’s paintings are assemblages of painted circles, blocks and strips of wood. Highly decorative, at a short distance their borders resolve into mazes of little, zany figures, letters, words and phrases only visible at close range. Clearly, the master is much better at this game—and more refined—than his followers.
Ronald Markman used to paint on flat surfaces, like other painters. Recently he turned to creating painted wooden assemblages, and in so doing has produced some of the most enjoyable works on view this month.
Each assemblage is a series of borders or frames that are more often of flat wood, but occasionally are of knobs, blocks or little constructed shapes. The central area in each assemblage is always something different, and special. A mirror, a city skyline in relief, stripes, grids, blue light bulbs (turned on), are examples of some of them.
Every square inch of these works is painted, with flat color or with decorative (often floral) patterns or, best of all, with tiny caricatures and their speeches. Their language revolves around the theme of each particular work; Numbers (1978), for example, features a bewildering array of figures and their numerical utterances, including a nude, complacent lady on an eight ball who counts off the seven deadly sins. The series ends with Map (1977), in which a cute redhead in the outer border look out at us and says, as if for her creator: “I love being decorative.”
Ronald Markman has an irrepressible imagination. His new paintings are an amplification of inspired doodles, in which a brightly colored, crazy-quilt arrangement of ziggurat towers, feet, ladders, flowers, large-eyed animals, periscopes, suns, and moons careen around a geometric layout suggestive of Oriental carpets or Indian blankets. Best of all is the wall full of small works—forming an extended map of “Markman Country”—each with Markman-painted frames. One of them is a photo-booth series of snapshots showing the artist in appropriate beret, mugging for the camera. (Anderson)
Ronald Markman’s recent paintings and drawings constitute a fantasy world of sophisticated and bawdy good humor infused with a childlike exuberance. At first glance, the large brightly colored paintings clearly resemble Persian rugs, quilts, or oriental fabric, but upon closer perusal one realizes that the patterned bands and units within the geometrically ordered compositions are made up of numerous cartoonlike images—partial figures frequently seen sideways or upside down, cars, houses, landscape elements, etc. in one somewhat atypical canvas, The Good Earth, executed in a more subdued palette, the carefully drawn and painted figurative images are clustered together and form what looks like a mountain against a solid brown background.
Raucous, vulgar play is the operating element in the rather handsome patterns of RONALD MARKMAN (Dintenfass, Nov. 2-27), which in all-over richness suggest oriental rugs. Within that pleasant framework are doodled jokes of comic strip derivation falling somewhere between Rube Goldberg, Barney Google and Hieronymous Bosch, with a personal emphasis on three breasts and erections. A series of small bronze figures have erect neckties like those curled paper favors children blow out at parties
Markman’s art reveals a working mind, a keen sense of humor, a talent capable of creative flexibility in both painting and sculpture. Creation is a game and he enjoys playing with ideas, words and reactions; a thinking artist, he comes across with a child-wild imagination, unlimited in its fantasy, inventiveness, and vision. Markman creates his own language of art, a newspeak dictionary of words, a new species of people, and a completely different environment which makes up his kind of work.
In a painting entitled Modern Painting, he plays around with that familiar question “What is art anyway, anyhow?” The illusion-reality enigma is played upon. Attracted by its bright colors, one stays to investigate the detailed visual messages of its content. Around an abstract painting, gargolyle-type marginalia almost cartoon creatures, react to the painting with very human comments. “It’s decorative, but is it art?” and “It’s a nice painting to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live with it.”
The Road, a sculpture, is a hilly 2-lane driveway which takes us through a tiny world filled with curiosities. On the road, Markman’s hybrid species are riding unicycles; on either side of the road are strange buildings made out of marbles, salt and pepper shakers and other bits of potpourri; and everywhere near the road is a newspeak language on buildings and billboards—“Drink Toxi –Teti” says one sign, “Moxa, Moxa,” reads another. Markman takes us with him on a trip into a never-ever, or maybe-here land. On this fantastic voyage we see his unlimited imagination and creativity at work. All of art is his realm, and his mind is the magic which brings it to life. (Dintenfass, October 8-26)—D.D.
In hundreds of diminutive figures, Mr. Markman crossbreeds a kind of cornball surrealism with social satire at low-comedy level, and makes it work, a witches’ Sabbath in ragtime. Meticulously executed, the pen and ink drawings are tinted in comic strip colors. There are also sculptures where the witches have been at it again, playing hell with the stock of F.A.O. Schwarz.
Take an overdose of Mad, a pinch of Punch, a meandering imagination, mix until slightly hysterical, and the result will suggest the manic surrealism of this University of Indiana art professor. Markman is goofily good at painting, drawing, and sculpting, and his efforts in all three art forms are happily represented in the show. The best work is a rollicking bit of sculptural topography titled Highway. Judged by the gregarious species inhabiting the landscape, it appears to be located somewhere between Dogpatch and Fun City.
At Terry Dintenfass (October 8-26) Ronald Markman will expose more of his garrulous, gaggy, paint-and-stencil drawings, frequented by flying pyramids, Band-Aided elephants, geezers on unicycles, objects with lewd intentions and intentions with lewd objects—any of which (you feel) is likely to leave the picture as you watch. Poking among the zanily disconnected images, you can find pasticcios from Bosch, dada, Steinberg, the funny papers and “Hellzapoppin’ “—proving, I guess, that art comes out of art, or vice versa. The thirty-seven-year-old artist, who studied at Yale and teaches at Indiana University, also shows a group of cheery, loony fantasies in 3-D—notably, a fairy-tale tower that will give you a new perspective on Rumpelstiltskin.
Ronald Markman’s [Dintenfass] cartoony paintings and colored drawings are packed with three-breasted ladies, airplanes, puffs of smoke, non-words, erotica. The painted bronzes are new and best. They have a Christmas-cookie joy and Toonerville zip that’s very charming.
The influence of such early heroes as Steinberg, Searle and the late George Grosz accounts, in part at least, for Markman’s abundant satire and spare surrealism. But he seems to be something of a seer too. His “City Square” is a mad mess of circling planes, plastered people, sprinting autos, all scrambled against a lightless skyline and a full moon—just like New York City during the Great Blackout. And he painted it last June.
Ronald Markman (Dintenfass, 18 E. 67th): A bit of Steinberg, a dash of Klee, and a soupcon of the English cartoonist Searle—and, voila—Markman. Despite the influences, there are skill, humor, and delight to be found in these paintings and drawings. J.G.
Ronald Markman (Dintenfass, 18 East 67th Street): Paul Klee seems to have been crossed with Mad magazine in these extremely detailed and often hilarious fantasies. The paintings are big and bright; a series of etchings are worth very close attention, especially before you consider taking one home. everywhere the hilarity has an undertone of “Better laugh while the laughing’s good.” This is an interesting debut
Ronald Markman [Dintenfass; to Dec. 4], from Indiana, is a painter of whimsical fantasies of miniaturistic, proliferating complexity. Tiny men, breasts, cars, houses, women with three breasts, etc., are worked into the larger scheme of a tree, a jigsaw puzzle or, in his most spectacular picture, an intensely colored Oriental rug.