In James Bishop’s beginning is the void, and like God he sets about dividing it. But Bishop’s creations eschew representation (without precluding human scale) in order to focus on juxtaposing colors and creating subtle gradations of hue.
The 15 works here constituted a skeletal retrospective of Bishop’s production between 1967 and 2012. Beginning with the appropriately titled Early (1967), a large (76⅜ by 76⅜ inches) oil on canvas, his affinities with landscape painting were fully evident. The horizon line created where a fluctuating green meets a fluctuating gray-white suggests depth, but the painting quickly negates that option. Its energies move up and down and do not draw us in. It’s a minimalism that resonates with allusion to an entire painterly tradition.
Having (1970), another large painting, confirmed Bishop’s embrace of emptiness. The shadowy shapes at the base of the virtually monochrome canvas might suggest buildings or boxes, but we remain on a surface with no place to go but up or down. Instead, Bishop establishes a field where we can run free.
The work from the 1970s, and even continuing up until the four small matte-gray compositions of 2012, evinced an artist who has found his idiom and devotes himself to mining its riches. This was a wonderful show, and it is a pity we see Bishop’s work so rarely.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 111.