I think that Walter Strach is a very fine painter. I must have seen ten shows of his work by now. This is very much the best one. But they were all a pleasure and have been getting better in small increments every time. Among the teachers he had at Pratt and Queens College were Mercedes Matter, Charles Cajori and Louis Finkelstein, who worked with him at Queens. Although Cajori also taught at Queens, Walter knew him from Pratt where he taught figure drawing. With that background there is no way he could have missed understanding modernist painting and its abstract structure. In this show, for example one of the paintings is long and thin, measuring 24 x 66, it is titled, Red Barn in the Middle. If you are someone who understands piocture making, that might be a difficult shape, since you want your viewer's eye to travel over the surface many times in many ways exploring the space which results. For a modernist painter, such a shape is a little less daunting than for some one of an earlier generation. That is because of the conceptualization which grew out of cubism and Cezanne of the paintings pictorial axes and their use to develop and control the space of the work. In this painting and the others in this shape, Strach has worked with that modern understanding and has visually, in his painting mind, divided the paintings into three irregular parts with two vertical axes, in order to fulfill that need.
Most of his shows have been in water base painting media like Gouache and Tempera, as is this show. He has been, for many years a virtuoso exponent of these media. One of the things in this show that is different from his past exhibited work is that wherever it was possible, and it helped intensify the feeling of the motif, he has let his first brushstrokes stand, without modification. These moments are often breathtakingly clear, clean and beautiful.
I have, in front of me two color images of the paintings on post cards used to notify us about the show. I am sorry to say that they flatten out the color and generalize the paintings. One of them, which shows a "Sous Bois" composition from a little bit outside, does give a better idea of the original. The gray horizontal shadows in the snow at the bottom of the canvas are some of those first takes which he did not alter. Even in this poor card, they look electric.
The thing about Walter which does not fit into conventional modernism as it now is practiced, is that with all his sensitvity to modernisms pictorial issues, he has a desire for the big unfettered landscape of the great 19th century masters like Courbet and Corot. But he cannot imitate them. His form sense is different from theirs, although I do think he does things often in the spirit of Courbet. Some of his new work also reminds me of Derain's brushstroke Corot's of the 1920s, too. But if he had a path into landscape painting I could niot clearly characterize it as coming out of any specific Fauve or Cubist painters. I think that his eye was sophisticated by cubist and fauve work. Like all of us, he knows the quality of Nice Matisse, Marquet, Dufy, Roualt and Derain. But not one specific artist brought him to himself.
There is something very original about his slant on painting. In the past I can only think of still life painters who worked with a limited number of objects on a relatively consistent setting like Chardin, Zurbaran, and in the twentieth century, Braque, Morandi and Dufy[Dufy, rather for his late studio interiors, each of which took him years]. Strach paints only at one site. It is a house and barn on a property which hs wife bought many years ago, I think before they married. It is the only place he has painted for some years. This is treating a piece of the outdoors like a studio set up, in some ways, and it is another reminder that he is still with us as a modernist making up his own art as he goes along while honoring the masters of the past, including the twentieth century, but he still has to make it on his own, and make and break new rules which they never laid down.
Despite his quality and pertinacity, I believe that Walter has never been reviewed by any New York critic. If the Sun had not folded, he might have had a review this time, but it did fold. Many years ago, one of my formulations was that perhaps in the future instead of the avant garde paradigm in which we continually find the great art in the new, we might find it in something which seems unfashionable and not new, at first glance, which someone has pursued over time. I think many people, not necessarily those with bad eyes, walk into the galley and see what seem to them conventional and boring landscapes, and they walk right out. Over the years that must have happened with critics, too. Well, one of the things which Strach's show tells us, is that we deserve a better audience, and better critics, too.