Art News - February 1989

Baltimore – Max Coyer – G. H. Dalsheimer

by Leslie King-Hammond

One might feel caught in a visual time warp when looking at the recent paintings of Max Coyer, in which art-historical images confront current issues. Coyer was attempting to evaluate traditional approaches to subject matter; in these works, the still life was the primary focus of his dissection and reassembly of formal elements and objects from the history of art.

In 1986 Coyer made an altarpiece for St. Peter’s Church in New York, at either end of which he placed still lifes of flowers – a tradition from the Middle Ages, when the painted flowers used as a metaphorical offering to the dead. Thus the artist launched his journey into the historical abyss of a genre, a journey fraught with the potential to fail through boredom or redundancy even while holding out the promise of liberation through the regeneration of ideals.

Undaunted by the odds, Coyer produced a series of canvases that skillfully reveal still-life flowers in a new light. The surfaces are layered, scraped, and scrubbed; the color is dripped and stained, in a style somewhere between those of Francis Bacon and Grace Hartigan. The vases of flowers, in their slightly asymmetrical placement, have an enigmatic air. And flowers do not simply rest in vases. In White Pitcher and Untitled (Two Vases), they dance across the background, creating a geometrically striped, patternlike wallpaper. The colors are bright and clear, with the luminescence of fresco.

There is no doubt that in testing the technical and critical limits of this genre Coyer was beginning to break new ground. ÊUnfortunately, his promising oeuvre became a legacy with his untimely death a few days after the closing of this exhibition. Max Coyer was a largely self-taught painter who in seven short years of professional painting managed to take on historical issues of monumental significance. He will be missed, as will the works he had yet to realize.