New York Times – December 1988
A Childlike Style That Isn’t Childish – By William Zimmer
Outside of that associated with Unicef, there is not much children’s art as wholehearted as that made by Dusty Boynton, whose works are now being exhibited at Gallery Jupiter in Little Silver. But there is a surprise: The maker of these appealing paintings and ink drawings is not a child, but a woman in middle age.
If it is a surprise to see this art here, it fits in with the taste of Brian Reddy, director of Gallery Jupiter. His taste is expressionistic (one remembers especially lively shows by Bill Barrell and Gary Komarin), so Ms. Boynton’s debut at the gallery is appropriate. It’s just that her style, which, at least in a couple of paintings, apes children’s art to a T, is an extreme of expressionism.
It should raise key questions like: Does it work; does Ms. Boynton pull off her childlike style without being childish? Is there a real adult sensibility controlling the art behind the scenes? The answer is yes to all these questions. The paintings in the show add up to a genuine meditation.
The first painting one encounters is what might at first glance be thought to be a little girl’s self-portrait. It is called “Lisa,” and the figure fills the canvas very colorfully. One is aware of a certain symmetry operating, as the child has a pony tail on either side of her head.
One is also aware of another feat early: children are never given large rectangles of canvas and expensive paints to work with, and it must be difficult to transpose this unselfconsciously exuberant way of working from tempera paint to this grand scale. One of the most misapplied observations of Picasso, that one must paint like a child, means that one must do this in spite of grown-up materials.
But another sensation soon takes over. Ms. Boynton’s brushstroke is so sure that it seems to will itself to fall into the form of a childishly drawn figure. But it could just as easily have been a more amorphous abstract composition. One is reminded of Philip Guston in his transitional phase between his abstractions, which seem like the ghosts of figures, and his full-fledged figures.
One is also reminded of the international style known as art brut. In practice, the imagery rendered in this style was more sweet than it was brutal or raw, one only has to think of Jean Dubuffet its chief practitioner. Art brut may make one think of primitive art, but Ms. Boynton was obliviously inspired more by a cozy suburban grade school – a much more radical thing.
Still, disturbing notes sound. Across from “Lisa” is “I Be Two,” which portrays a little girl, Lisa or another child, taking a big step with big feet that are out of proportion to the rest of her. She holds a wisp of a red doll. But Ms. Boynton has chosen to paint wide brushstrokes across the face of this figure. One thinks easily of bandages, but obviously they are here a painterly device to make a more lively and interesting composition. Ms. Boynton shows us how a figure grows out of a gnarl of line and garish color, but any tangle can be unsettling.
Next is “Winter Swing,” which seems at first to be of the same childish ilk. On the surface it has a fat brown column of a tree capped by its cottony ball of white. On either side of this central image is, symmetrically, a puff of white – two clouds in the winter sky.
But when it comes to the swing of the title, we are not given a hard tangible object, but instead a flurry of vague white strokes on either side of the brown trunk. We are doubtlessly being given the motion of a swing, a rendering of the sensation of being in this winter landscape.
This painting captures atmosphere. Even more so does “Morning Light.” This painting is slapdash on a relative scale, but very firm compared with the two paintings of children. It consists of a palpable light falling across a yellow table top with a couple of ordinary objects on it. Here one things of Pierre Bonnard and other post-Impressionist painters of domestic hedonism. The warm light simply conjures up the good life.
All this is in sharp contrast to “Say Grace.” The command, which is implicit in this title, is unsettling as it sets us up for the unsettling imagery, which is like two deep blue skulls seen from the side. One is almost a mirror image of the other.
We know that they are skulls by the roundness of the craniums and the small rectangles are the bases, which are sets of teeth. And yet we do not know that they are skulls since abstraction is paramount. One feels himself in the never-never land of the Rorschach ink blot, where you and your companion might see skulls but someone else might see something benign.
But going from ebullient childhood to this chilling painting in one small show is a quite intense meditation. And “Say Grace” quickens every other painting here.
We are also given two series of drawings on sienna-colored paper. The drawings seem to be of fat insects, even though we primarily appreciate the inventiveness of the shapes. We admire insects for their ability to pack a whole life into a very short span, and these drawings recapitulate in miniature the major paintings.
Mr. Reddy discovered Ms. Boynton living in Middletown, near Little Silver, and, as he tells it, it took a while before he received permission to visit her studio. But although this is her first painting exhibition, she is not exactly unknown. She has been a maker of miniature environments as art and as models for business and is a member of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans. One wonders if this affinity conditioned her to paint like a child so well.
The exhibition continues through Jan. 15. Gallery Jupiter is at 25 Church Street in Little Silver, and the hours are 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 P.M. Sunday.