Pattern and decoration

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A tendency in late 1970s painting, emphasizing ornamental or visually luxuriant two-dimensional design. Quickly nicknamed “P & D,” its adherents found inspiration in fabrics, Islamic architectural embellishment, Japanese kimonos and fans, folk traditions, ceramics, theatrical design, Persian and Celtic manuscripts, and other forms of colorful, eye-catching artistry. They also looked to certain forms of high art, including work by Matisse, George Sugarman, and Frank Stella. Although interested artists came together in a loosely organized movement, they maintained individually distinctive styles. Some pattern and decoration work incorporated representational elements, but abstract compositions prevailed. By promoting the value of visual pleasure, pattern and decoration artists countered the austere appearance and intellectual aesthetic of prevailing minimalism and conceptual art. Yet their work generally sustained the period's preoccupations with compositional grids and with serial or modular forms. Within a few years, pattern and decoration faded as a distinct tendency, but its legacy entered the mainstream. By reinvigorating painting after a period of neglect, it facilitated the medium's large-scale 1980s revival. In drawing on decorative approaches from around the globe, casting a discerning eye on craft traditions, and elevating folk or vernacular forms, it helped to legitimize a multiethnic and pluralistic aesthetic outlook. What was then seen as its transgressive mixing of media, a tendency to draw from anything at hand, has since become commonplace practice. Pattern and decoration's earliest stirrings originated among feminist artists such as Miriam Schapiro. Admiring traditional domestic needlework and other crafts, they sought to find acceptance for such expression within the purview of high art. Much of the early interest in pattern and decoration appeared in Southern California. However, as a movement, a theoretical discourse, and a commercially viable enterprise, it coalesced in New York. Key artists began meeting there early in 1975. The first large pattern and decoration exhibition, “Ten Approaches to the Decorative” took place at the Alessandra Gallery in 1976. Individual pattern and decoration artists had already exhibited during the previous year at the Holly Solomon Gallery, which soon became identified as the movement's headquarters.

Along with Schapiro, painter and printmaker Robert Rahway Zakanitch (1935– ) helped to organize like-minded painters into a movement. His New York studio hosted early informal gatherings of invited artists. An Elizabeth, New Jersey, native who later took the name of his nearby boyhood hometown for a middle name, Zakanitch studied at Cooper Union and the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art. His early work in an abstract expressionist style preceded a period of more disciplined abstract paintings. In the early 1970s, he became increasingly dissatisfied with art's drift toward intellectualization. After meeting Schapiro and others interested in purely visual art in 1974 while teaching for a year in California, he adopted a lush visual style incorporating middlebrow representational elements. Drawn to such precedents as wallpaper and linoleum, he repeated individual, relatively flat elements within a painterly context. His early pattern and decoration paintings most often featured flowers, but later works have incorporated varied, usually domestic subjects, including household furnishings and pets. Despite the casual and homey tone of his imagery, he frequently works on a monumental scale, sometimes heading for the sublime.


Subjects: Art.

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