Larry Deyab


Larry Deyab has reached a really important place in painting; a place where painting can't really start until you get there: nowhere. No one really wants to end up there, but when you do, well, you let out a sigh. Milton Resnick once told Deyab that that is how you know a good painting: it makes the sound of a sigh.

Larry Deyab is serious about painting. So much so that out of the MFA program at Columbia in the early Eighties he apprenticed himself to two of the best we've had, two painter's painters, Bill Jensen and Milton Resnick. As their assistant he mopped up, all the while soaking up their greatness.

Greatness was his destination back then, it was the plan, plan A, the only plan, the don't mess with my plan plan, but now that he has matured, and it is nowhere that lets him not only paint, but be himself, and make the paintings that he knew were inside of him, perhaps even the greatness that he knew was inside of him.

He looks back on that work he did when he was caught up in being great, when he was a New York painter, and he sees contrivance. He looks at the paintings he is doing now in Cambridge, the place of his upbringing(home?) that has for the moment inconveniently derailed him and he sees paintings that just are: just right.

These are the paintings he has always wanted to paint. In them he sees it all, paintings that tap into it all and reflect it all: dreams, culture, politics, poetry, religion, yes, all of humanity, love, fear, longing, suffering, and humor. A lot of humor. Surprising humor. Sly humor. Sardonic humor. Absurd humor. Ironic humor! The outright shake your head at the crazy way life does its thing humor. Black comedy stalking The Divine Comedy.

Larry Deyab has a wry smile for life. He smokes his cigars. Sometimes he drinks alone. In fifteen minutes he might do a painting that if he spent fifteen years on it wouldn't look any different. As Whistler pointed out: fifteen minutes, yes, but a lifetime of experience.

Larry Deyab is still serious about painting, but most of his images strangely enough come from the movies. Movies that tell us about ourselves; that tell us about each other. Images that he steals for himself, to speak for himself.

Is the work cinematic? Yes. Videographic? Very much so! Motion? Yes! Still? Humming! Blur? Blurred in ways that keeps the eye in flux like a camera that can't establish automatic focus. Framed. Framed tight. The spray-painted surface flies in and out--from sharp to soft and fast and slick to brittle and rough and scattered.

The freshest canvasses are black and white house paint with some red spray paint. Weeks, even days old. They are painted in natural light on his back porch, sometimes with very little, almost in darkness, studied in darkness, like the glow of a tv screen. They work on us that way, stamped on our retinas that way. Imposing themselves. Iconic phosphorescence. They conjure up words like Purgatory, graffiti, urban, haunting, refugee, and ear!

And then Larry Deyab reads-- all the time, mostly biographies, mostly about artists. He is looking for clues. Clues about the mystery ride that is art and about the riders, what made them go, what made them great. Right now he's stay up late, taking painkillers, and reading a new book on Turner. And he's stuck, stuck in Cambridge. Waiting to get back to somewhere, anywhere: Paris, Berlin, New York. Hoboken even. But right now, right now nowhere is a pretty good place to paint after all. From the looks of things, maybe as good as it gets.

Addison Parks, Cambridge


Some 30 years ago postmodernism rose from modernism's ashes and Larry Deyab was its perfect child. These three large unstretched canvasses from 1982 and 1983 at the Bow Street Gallery are monument to that moment. 

That Larry Deyab was not hoisted onto the shoulders of the ensuing parade is part travesty, part divine providence. That as a result he was forced to play the part of Cinderella and not only watch as other painters were feted by the likes of Mary Boones everywhere, he cleaned their brushes and mopped their studios(Bill Jensen, Ronald Bladen, Milton Resnick...). 

These paintings(Larry Deyab/Paintings/early 80s NYC; October 8 - November 6, 2011; Bow Street Gallery, Harvard Square), buried in storage these 30 years, are proof that once again the art world got it wrong. What possible silver lining is there to this sad story? Why was Deyab denied, held back, thwarted, unrecognized? Tell me the good news!

Well hear this! Here it is! Hallelujah! Larry Deyab didn't quit! Larry Deyab kept painting! Larry Deyab was never spoiled by success! He was never changed by the art world! While those other artists flamed out or atrophied or grew stunted or not at all, Larry Deyab kept painting and evolving and growing and learning! Today he is every bit the painter of every star who ever drank from Whitney's cup! That is divine providence!

It is a curious phenomenon. Artist as Job. To have suffered so as others triumphed. Will Deyab ever get the call? Like Tom Brady waited so many years ago for that one chance to shine, to march the ball down the field and score! 

Larry Deyab sprang from modernism's foam full grown! These paintings are proof! He spoke modernism fluently, his native tongue! He spoke it with an eloquence that was understood, so that the business of postmodernism was at his feet, and he went about making the paintings that told the story of his time! Our time! It is no surprise that any artist who is of his time always appears ahead of his time to all who are actually looking back!

Dealers who were looking back because that was all they were naturally capable of, never saw him, never got him, or worse, feared him.

But look at these paintings! Almost murals really! Hanging in this abandoned building! They are perfect! They should be in a museum so that young painters can look at them the way they look at Delacroix and Matisse and Picasso and de Kooning and Pollock!

OK. I know full well that by '82/'83 it was like Times Square on the morning of January 1st. The party was over. I know, I hung New York/New Wave at PS1! But that was a free for all. A hundred factions. You had no clear voice. Instead it was Basquiat here, Duncan Hannah there, Haring and Futura over there. I made sense out of it but it was the Tower of Babel, no doubt about it. That was the whole point! Pluralism! Anarchy! Anything goes! It was deliriously breathtaking! 

And yes, Larry Deyab was the morning after! Pick up the pieces and make a new world, and he did that. Out of paint! He did what the artist does; he went back to his cave and made cave paintings!

And assimilated it all perfectly! Not in a calculated way, but as natural as breathing! Loving breathing! Larry Deyab paints cave paintings, but make no mistake, they only look crude in that sense. They are high art. The real thing. The rare thing. The original thing. Strange and alien and fresh as it is elegant and thoughtful and whole!

Larry Deyab is all observer, and he pays attention. His paintings, then as now, are made of the stuff of life. Like Mary Shelley's monster they are fashioned from the bits and pieces he picks up in his travels about town, about the country, about the world. They seem like disparate parts, but under his expert guidance they come together in a swirl of paint, in an epiphany! Alive!

The new paintings bear this out! They would have been hanging now had Bow Street not closed. They are painted a little differently. Spray paint and enamel instead of thick oils. But the vision is the same, steadily forged by time and experience. At first glance they are nothing, a bunch of paint, and then they start to coalesce, and then just when they seem to make sense, they evaporate and we find ourselves at the bottom of the hill. 

This is what he shared so well with Resnick, his paintings never stand still. They are always moving, changing, always showing you something new, something different. Then when you find them again the next day they are reborn! Remade! Alive! Ready for another dance!

Addison Parks
Harvard Square