David Salle considers "late style" painting in three recent exhibitions: Alex Katz at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, and Malcolm Morley at Sperone Westwater, and Georg Baselitz: Drinkers and Orange Eaters at Skarstedt.
Salle begins: "Painting is one of the few things in life for which youth holds no advantage. The diminutions wrought by aging—of muscle mass, stamina, hearing, mental agility (the list goes on)—are offset among painters by fearlessness, finely honed technique, and heightened resolve. A ticking clock focuses the mind. There’s a recurring narrative about late style in painting: from Rembrandt to de Kooning to, in our own era, Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly, the trajectory of the long-lived painter in the final decade or two reaches toward a greater openness and a simplifying of form, along with efficiency of execution. Muscle memory is the last thing to go. In this reading, a painter’s late work is characterized by letting go—the older painter needs do less. This effortlessness is also embraced by young painters, but for a different reason: they’re placing a bet on one idea and hoping it’s enough. Anyway, young people are in a hurry—there’s no time for psychological complexity. Conflict is left for the middle years... All three shows had in common a concern with the way painting takes an image and makes out of it something iconic. How is an image built out of paint? What holds it together, and to what end?"