Jerald Webster

Jerald Webster
“Neptune’s Lair”

When I first met Jerald Webster, in the late 70’s, he was already painting beautiful pictures. After studying at Syracuse University, with Darryl Hughto, his painting was informed by the paintings of Jules Olitski and Larry Poons, “close valued or grayed and browned”, as he describes them. Then, within a two-year period, he saw retrospectives of Kenneth Noland, Hans Hofmann, an exhibition of Matisse’s cut outs and a Jack Bush painting, “Salmon Control”. These experiences changed his painting radically. He rejected the second tier Olitski-influenced painting, dominant in the 70’s, and went back to the preceding “classical”, Color Field painting – the hard edge, stain picture, which dominated advanced painting between 1951-1965. Almost immediately, Webster became a powerful painter demonstrating a unique gift for color.

Completely unforgiving, staining is “one shot” painting which forces spontaneous color improvisation. In each picture, the color must seem fresh, alive, and with its own chromatic logic and form of life. Color here is used solely to express the self without any holding back, forced gestures, or equivocations. Staining features color as never before, and add to this, the acrylic medium, which makes staining technically sound, offers a whole new range of brighter, clearer colors than were ever available before. Staining shows the canvas weave throughout and it is this warm, literal, flatness which gives the color forms their illusive, disembodied, ideal feeling. The picture is a lofty, glowing presence, which breathes and radiates light filled color into the room. Staining tends toward pure color, side-by-side color, which make for sharp edges and often leads to geometry. Webster worked primarily with stripes. He made many of these striped, stained pictures and many are brilliant. Aside from the fact he rarely achieved heroic scale, Webster’s stain pictures can hang with the best.

But since the 1980’s, an ambitious new wave, the New New painters, have reacted against Color Field and what had, to them, become its limitations. True expression tends toward refinement and requires a periodic influx of the ugly, of raw reality, if it is to remain authentic and “keep it real”. The New New projects drawing, the sculptural, the visceral, the baroque and the expressionistic. Less sublimated, the picture becomes both more personal and, at the same time, aggressively physical. It becomes an ecstatic affirmation of the material world. Spirit no longer breathes free from literal matter but wholly embodies it.

With these changes there has been a liberation of drawing and the physical, without a loss of living color. A new more flexible medium and a full range of stylistic possibilities. A golden age for acrylics.

But Webster was slow to change and who can blame him for his love affaire with pure color? But gradually his love of freedom won out, and he too became a searcher. This was the mid 1980’s. Along the way, and at every stage, there have been wonderful paintings but only in recent years has Webster evinced the same mastery, i.e. freedom, in his drawing and surface, as he had previously in his color. A painter of genius almost from the first, Webster is now a much larger, freer artist. His best pictures stand toe to toe with the best paintings of our time.