B I L L   D U R H A M


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BILL DURHAM: 'Paint as a Living Entity'
Profile by Robert Long, THE EAST HAMPTON STAR, January 27, 2005

Emphasizing the Paint in Paintings
Review by Helen A. Harrison, THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 9, 1984

Durham is a Remarkable Colorist
Commentary by Robert Long, Bologna/Landi Gallery, September 1984

Prints by Artists of the Region
Catalog Listing from Guild Hall Exhibition (East Hampton), September-October 1974

Durham in Amagansett
Review by Eric Ernst, THE SOUTHAMPTON PRESS, December 20, 2001

Vered Gallery Poster
Poster from Vered Gallery Exhibition, October 1987

A Style Distinctively His Own
Introduction to Vered Gallery Exhibition Catalog by Jay Jacobs, freelance writer and former Managing Editor ART IN AMERICA, Senior Editor PORTFOLIO, Executive Editor ARTS MAGAZINE, Associate Editor HORIZON, Editor THE ART GALLERY, 1990

Distinctive "Signature" Styles
Commentary by Jay Jacobs, December 8, 2001


BILL DURHAM: 'Paint as a Living Entity'

"As someone who gets up and goes to work at 3 in the morning, Bill Durham surely belongs to a vanishing breed. You can probably count on one hand the number of South Fork residents who rise that early to milk their cows. As for milkmen, well, they don't exist anymore.

"Mr. Durham doesn't have much of a commute, and requires no cupholders. He opens the back door of his big old house on Montauk Highway in Amagansett, takes about 50 steps, and he's at the door to his studio. There, he paints while listening to birdsong and the distant crash of waves at Atlantic Avenue Beach, occasionally glancing out a window to watch a cloud of bats whirling in the treetops at daybreak.

"'That's my normal day. I love being out there when it's still dark. I used to work six days a week," Mr. Durham said recently, "but now I feel like I'm wasting a Sunday if I don't paint.'

"Mr. Durham's colorful abstractions have been shown in galleries and museums across the country for about four decades now, from the Chicago Art Institute to the Newark Museum, at the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, and, on Long Island, at the Heckscher Museum, the Parrish Art Museum, Guild Hall, and a number of South Fork galleries.

"Those works embody, in the critic Helen A. Harrison's words, "paint as a living entity, flowing, pulsing, and swirling with organic vitality." Like Morris Louis, another nonobjective painter with a strong feeling for color, Mr. Durham has spent much of his career investigating color's expressive qualities.

"In the last few years, however, he has made a series of paintings, sculptures, and prints with figurative elements. He has begun making still lifes, as well as straightforward landscapes, such as views of Accabonac Harbor in Springs. These images retain the high color and exuberant, flowing brushwork of his earlier work, but have a more tranquil tone.

"Mr. Durham traveled to Amagansett from Michigan by way of New York in the winter of 1966. He was born and raised in Flint, and studied at Michigan State University, where, as a graduate assistant, he was befriended by a teacher, Charles Pollock, Jackson's older brother.

"'As a graduate assistant, I was given my own studio, and it was an exciting time there. Michigan State was playing catch-up, and they had hired Abraham Rattner and Morris Kantor in the art department, and Buckminster Fuller was giving seminars. Erich Fromm was the head of the psychology department.'

"He roomed at Pollock's house for a time in 1957. 'I never brought up his brother Jackson, but it would come up late at night when we were sitting there drinking cognac. He told me about the many attempts Jackson had made to kill him. One night when he came home all the lights were out, and he started going upstairs to his bedroom. Jackson was at the top of the stairs, and he pushed a chest of drawers down onto him.'

"Charles Pollock encouraged Mr. Durham to avoid the pitfalls of academia. 'He told me to get out of there. He said, "You're a painter, not a teacher. Go to New York."'

"'I talked it over with my wife, and within 10 days we were in New York.' Before long, Mr. Durham began showing in galleries there, and he had also made the acquaintance of Ralph Martell, who owned a bar at 83rd Street and Third Avenue, and was looking to open a South Fork branch.

"And so it was that, in the spot in Amagansett now occupied by Pacific East, Mr. Durham, hired as a de facto general manager, helped to open Martell's, the first of countless East End singles bars. It was Martell's customers who gave Atlantic Avenue Beach the nickname Asparagus Beach - during the day, they stood and chatted just as they did in the bar at night.

"Mr. Durham stopped working for Mr. Martell after a year, by which time 'Ralph made his investment back, but we were grossly underpaid,' but in that time he and his first wife discovered the house where he lives today.

"'I leased it with the option to buy, and the owners, who wanted to open a car wash, asked me to exercise the option. I had to come up with $15,000 in cash, and that was a lot of money in 1967. I worked day and night and came up with $14,800.' His mother lent him the rest. By the time he'd bought a celebratory bottle of Scotch for his lawyer, he and his wife found that they didn't have enough money to buy dinner that night.

"He soon met some of his Amagansett neighbors, including the artist Robert Gwathmey and his wife, the photographer Rosalie Gwathmey. 'They were like a second set of parents. I didn't even know that this was considered an artists' colony; Springs could have been a town in upstate New York for all I knew. Then I found myself at the Gwathmeys', having dinner with people I had been reading about in art history books.'

"Emanuel Benson, the founder of the Bridgehampton gallery that still bears his name, gave Mr. Durham three back-to-back shows. But Mr. Gwathmey tried to persuade Mr. Durham that it was a mistake to settle in Amagansett at that stage of his career.

"'Bob said, "You're in your late 20s, go back to New York." I was doing pretty well in New York in 1966, when I left. Politically, it was the wrong move, but artistically, it was the right move.'

"Mr. Durham didn't become a superstar - indeed, he left the city just as Andy Warhol was on the verge of transforming the popular image of the artist, from tortured soul living in a hovel to tabloid celebrity.

"'There were no superstars among artists then. It was a very small world, and you understood that it took time to learn how to paint. It was taken for granted that you were going to have to find a job to support your art habit.'

"As art slowly but surely turned into a popular commodity, climaxing in the boom years of the early 1980s, 'there was a big change,' Mr. Durham said. 'All of a sudden young people, and their parents, decided that it was okay to go to art school because it looked like there was money in it. There are an awful lot of mediocre painters in their 20s showing in Chelsea now, because you're just starting to learn how to paint when you're in your 20s.'

"Mr. Durham knew he was an artist 'from the age of 5. I flunked third grade; the teachers told my parents all I did was daydream and draw. In fifth grade I was hauled before the principal for drawing "dirty pictures." Of course I was drawing what I thought nudes looked like.'

"Mr. Durham said that the recent changes in his style reflect not only aesthetic choices but changes in his life. He had a heart attack in 1998, and underwent a quadruple bypass operation. Three years ago, he had more heart surgery.

"'When I came out of the hospital seven years ago I was told I had to change everything, that my lifestyle had to change, and that my drinking had to stop. I changed my whole idea of how I was going to paint, and it took about two years,' he said. 'The heart attack was the best thing that happened to me, because my life started when the alcohol stopped.'

"He found himself returning to representational imagery, 'which I hadn't dealt with in a long time, and which I wasn't known for. I wasn't thinking of an audience. It was just that little things I had taken for granted - birds singing, the sound of waves - started to take on a different meaning.'

"'I would like to think I'm giving back something by making art, but I don't often think about how valuable it is, or what kind of legacy I'm leaving,' Mr. Durham said. 'Although it sometimes crosses my mind when I finish a canvas and say, "Wow, that's not so bad." That's one of the thrills of being an artist. If you work at it, you never know when things will start flowing all by themselves, and things happen that you didn't expect.'"



Emphasizing the Paint in Paintings

     "A group of works by five such artists is on view through Thursday at the Bologna-Landi Gallery in East Hampton. There is no stylistic unity here, yet each, in his or her own way, is equally possessed by the medium.

     "In Bill Durham's canvases, this possession results in the image of paint as a living entity, flowing, pulsing and swirling with organic vitality. His poured paintings exploit the natural viscosity, color clarity and quick-drying capabilities of acrylic, which he manipulates into lively arabesques that suggest the inner rhythms of nature without imitating its outward appearance.
     "His most evocative work is the haunting 'Black Orpheus,' which abstractly conjures up the moment of suspension between eternal damnation and the possibility of escape. Here, a metaphysical situation is described in nonillustrative yet convincingly pictorial terms."



September, 1984

     "There's a marvelous feeling looking at Bill Durham's work that each painting was achieved through a careful balance of control and accident. Durham is, of course, a remarkable colorist: the fans and explosions and implosions and streaks and bursts of implied fireworks are all there, and there's little to be said about them but that they are stunning, and can be exhilarating. It's as if Morris Lewis, whose veils and furls of acrylic on big canvases tended toward the meditational, acquired a whole new emotional dimension: for Durham's work, though it has a certain quiet to it, is powerfully evocative. Technically, the paintings are fascinating, of course: those blue strokes which turn furry at the edges, in very recent work, for example, are made by applying the acrylic to wet Gesso; in the slow drying process, exacerbated by summer humidity, the paint bleeds off in all directions.
     "The interesting aspect of this fine show, for me, was the fascination of the sometimes subtle, sometimes plain differences among the artists represented: to see Puliafito, Dante, Stefanelli, Durham, D'Vorzon and Gibran in one space is to gain some illumination in the process of considering contemporary art."

- Robert Long



Exhibition Committee

Measurements in inches, height x width.
Works are lent by the artist, unless otherwise indicated.
    Curl 1973 silkscreen 32 x 36
    Sea Puss 1974 silkscreen 32 x 36
  Two Women 1970 photolithograph 21 x 27     Flowers and Landscape 1971 lithograph 29 1/2 x 23 1/2
  Arches 1974 photolithograph 19 x 24 courtesy Benson Gallery
    Paris Review Poster 1965 lithograph 45 x 40
ILYA BOLOTOWSKY lent by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Schachter
  Interlocking Reds 1970 silkscreen 30 x 22    
courtesy of Grace Borgenicht Gallery   ADOLPH GOTTLIEB
  Yellow Tondo 1970 silkscreen 22 x 30     Untitled 1967 silkscreen 17 1/2 x 23
courtesy of Grace Borgenicht Gallery   lent by Esther Gottlieb
    Untitled 1972 aquatint 30 1/2 x 24
ROBERT DASH   lent by Esther Gottlieb
  Black and White Sagg 1973 lithograph 41 1/4 x 29 1/2   MASUO IKEDA
  Sagg Autumn 1973 lithograph 41 1/4 x 29 1/2     Portrait of Madam DaVinci 1974 mezzotint 7 x 8
    The String 1973 mezzotint 7 x 6 1/4
  Landscape at Stanton Street 1971 lithograph 30 x 22 1/4   LESTER JOHNSON
courtesy Fourcade, Droll, Inc., New York     Spring Street 1972 silkscreen 23 x 31
  Reflections: To Kermit for   courtesy of Martha Jackson
     Our Trip to Japan 1971 lithograph 50 1/2 x 35     Tip of Broadway 1973 lithograph 25 x 37
courtesy Fourcade, Droll, Inc., New York   courtesy Martha Jackson Gallery

Jackson Pollock, Untitled (after Number 7), 1951

Bill Durham, Sea Puss, 1974

  Primary Series Blue Stone 1969 lithograph 22 x 29     Untitled 1974 silkscreen 35 x 46
courtesy Marlborough Galleryt lent by Arnold Hoffmann, Jr.
  Primary Series Rose Stone 1969 lithograph 22 x 29  
courtesy Marlborough Gallery   LARRY RIVERS
    Jack of Spades 1960 lithograph 41 x 29
FAY LANSNER anonymous lender
  Blue and Red Figure 1964 lithograph 23 1/2 x 29     For Adults Only 1971 lithographic diptych 71 x 29
  Untitled 1973 lithograph 35 1/2 x 23 lent by Dr. Joseph I. Singer and family
  Western Wall 1973 intaglio 31 x 41     Untitled 1973 silkscreen 35 1/2 x 35
  Hora   intaglio 31 1/2 x 37     Rio 1973 silkscreen 35 1/2 x 35
  Cassandra 1965 lithograph 17 1/2 x 23     Untitled   silkscreen 24 x 22
lent by Carolyn Prohaska lent by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Griffith
  Neptune 1971 lithograph 11 1/2 x 14     Arapahoe   silkscreen 22 x 24
lent by Evan Frankel lent by Lois Borgenicht
  Winter Series '73 No. 1 1973 silkscreen 26 x 40     Bothmer's Choice 1974 silkscreen 24 x 18
  Winter Series '73 No. 3 1973 silkscreen 26 x 40     Edna's Return 1974 silkscreen 23 x 17




Durham in Amagansett

Works by Bill Durham are currently on view
at the Crazy Monkey Gallery in Amagansett.

     "Perhaps no other event of manifestation of life is as disconcerting and revealing as the human reaction to the proximity of death. By definition, this entails the death of someone other than the one experiencing the reaction, so our understanding of the event is colored by the fact that, until it actually happens to us, it's still a profoundly mysterious and unknowable inevitability.
     "I can recall identifying the body of a friend for the police and - staring into the unimaginable depths within his lifeless eyes while searching for some inkling of what it must have been like - could only think to myself, 'Lights off, nobody home.'
     "For painter and sculptor Bill Durham, however, the experience of death is considerably more than a random and morbid exercise in intellectual curiosity. Three years ago, he experienced a near-fatal heart attack and was, for a short time, in fact actually dead. Not surprisingly, the experience left him with a changed perspective on his own existence. But perhaps even more importantly, it altered his relationship as an artist to his own work and the imagery within.
     "In his current exhibition at the Crazy Monkey Gallery in Amagansett, Mr. Durham's new acrylic on canvas works provide stunning departures from his earlier paintings while still expressing a definite connection to the same rhythms, textures and flowing elegance of his more abstract periods. Using the presence of representational and human figuration as the central focus of the composition, he provides an entertaining and interesting balance by the inclusion of abstract imagery that heightens the impact of the recognizable forms.
     "This balance is especially evident in 'The Harvest' (2001), in which the artist bisects the canvas vertically with a compositionally formal still-life on the left and wild and energetic circular forms, highly evocative of Delaunay, dominating the right. Creating a dialogue between the two seemingly contradictory segments, the work features a contrast in movement and meditative stillness that is quite successful. Using Lichtenstein-like brush strokes in the upper portion as a visual bridge within the work, he creates a profound sense of co-existence, rather than jarring confrontation, in the balance within the structure of the painting itself.
     "This is also true in 'Summer Place' (3001), as the artist quite obviously has painted over an older canvas while leaving significant areas unchanged. Offering a stylistic transition within the work from left to right, from rigidly formal to flowingly abstract, the artist makes the viewer aware of both the artist's hand and mind in the structure of the painting. This heightens, rather than detracts from, the effect of carefully plotted composition, allowing it to express the power and importance of the representational imagery without overwhelming Mr. Durham's earlier, more abstract impulses. It becomes a coherent collection of fragments built over past imagery that, as T.S. Eliot wrote in 'What the Thunder Said,' are '...fragments I have shored against my ruins.'
     "Providing an even more immediate contrast to the new work in the exhibit is the inclusion of a number of Mr. Durham's earlier small construction pieces that are remarkable in their rhythmic simplicity and organic representations of water, stone, and marble."


(516) 324-3303
(212) 288-6234

68 Park Place

Opening Reception: October 15, 6 - 8 p.m.





     "Time passes and change occurs. Bill Durham is a much different artist today from the young painter he was when I met him nearly thirty years ago, and when his work seemed promising but unresolved. If there has been a constant factor from the outset, however, it has been a willingness - perhaps a compulsion - to put himself at risk; to abandon seemingly secure positions and plunge headlong into uncertain, often inhospitable territory.
     "As a very young painter, he'd already developed a style distinctively his own, derived in part from the imagery of television and print photojournalism. It was a style developed concurrently with but independent of the emergence of Pop Art, which it resembled in some respects, and in some respects, it anticipated Op Art, which was to come along a few years later. Although it seemed to me incompletely realized, it was an original signature style that any prudent painter might have made a career of fine-tuning.
     "Durham didn't. When I next encountered his work after a lapse of several years, it had undergone a startling transformation; rigid control of tractable elements had given way to a sort of painterly free-fall in which pigments and forms were turned loose on the canvas; highly stylized but easily recognizable images had given way to abstract forms of explosive force; a non-palette previously restricted to stark black and white was replaced by blasts and whorls and coruscations of color; static motifs that had been restricted to representations were replaced by pure form in motion and in flux - form that seemed to capture the essence of elemental natural forces and phenomena while disdaining specific representation.
     "For some years, the artist seemed to me to be grappling with forces not altogether under his control, as though he had let a highly capricious genie out of a bottle, He was, I thought, occasionally hedging his bets be retouching passages that had got out of hand as paint flowed according to its own nature into unforeseen configurations. In his more recent works, however, I find an astonishing control of highly volatile elements, as though years of exposure to a storm of his own making finally have revealed all its secrets to him.
     "And now, in his newest work, motifs from the earliest work have begun to resurface in still another risky refusal to stand pat."

- Jay Jacobs

(Jay Jacobs is a freelance writer and former Managing Editor ART IN AMERICA,
Senior Editor PORTFOLIO, Executive Editor ARTS MAGAZINE, Associate Editor HORIZON,
Editor THE ART GALLERY, and Contributing Editor ART IN AMERICA)


December 8, 2001

     "I have known Bill Durham for the past forty years and have closely followed his artistic development during that time.

     "I was managing editor of Art in America and (concurrently) senior editor of its sister publication, Portfolio, when I met Bill for the first time in 1961. He was then making monochromatic paintings in a figurative style derived in part from television imagery and tenuously related to the then emerging Pop Art movement.

     "I was steadily engaged in art journalism and criticism over the next decade and a half, successively as executive editor, Arts Magazine; associate editor, Horizon; editor, The Art Gallery, and contributing editor, Art in America. Coincidentally, Bill and I lived in close proximity to each other, first in New York City and later on the East End of Long Island, and my observation of his evolution as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor continued more or less steadily until the present time.

     "What has impressed me most about Bill and his work is that he has repeatedly developed distinctive "signature" styles, pushed each to its limits and then jettisoned each in favor of a fresh challenge. This sort of artistic integrity doesn't often result in the ready marketability that stylistic consistency (brand recognition, if you will) is more likely to produce. As a consequence, Bill has engaged in other types of unrelated income-producing work throughout most of his artistic career. After suffering a major heart attack during the summer of 2998, however, he has held no paying jobs and has devoted all his energy to his art.

     "After alternating between figural and abstract art of one sort or another over the years, Bill is now exploring ways whereby principles of American painting of the 19th century can be adapted to the demands and sensibilities of 21st-century life."

- Jay Jacobs


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E - M A I L   U S   A T :   durhamassoc@optonline.net

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