Bob Law, 1959-2001

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Who is Bob Law? That was the question floating around the opening reception of a show of extremely minimal, whitish, drawings and paintings at Marc Selwyn Fine Art. The small survey shows the evolution of Law's work from the late 1950's to 2001, made three years before his death.

The English artist, living in St. Ives, was following the great tradition of working in response to the natural world, like Turner or Constable, but reducing all of it to just a few simple lines. Drawings from the 1950's and early 1960's are precisely located, if not precisely executed, graphite lines indicating horizon, sun and sky. It you weren't looking carefully, you'd really miss the point of them. But looking carefully is exactly the point.

Bob Law, "Mister Paranoia V 21.8.71," 1971
Courtesy of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills

The best painting in the show, Mr. Paranoia (1972) consists of a black outline that almost follows the exterior border of the rectangular canvas but veers inward at a slight angle. The black shape frames the interior of unprimed canvas. It is a perplexing work registering to the eye as both something and nothing.

Though Law is considered the great figure of British Minimalism, his reputation had faded until recently. He was largely self-taught, doing technical drawing, carpentry and then architecture to make a living. He designed and built houses for art collector and property developer Alan Power in the 1960's.

Bob Law, "Untitled Field Drawing 22.1.63," 1963
Courtesy of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills

His interest in painting was influenced initially by the work of Americans Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, shown in 1959 at the Tate. But a slightly earlier influence would be Ben Nicholson, the underrated but brilliant English abstract painter, whom he met in St. Ives in 1957. They became friends and the older artist's subdued palette, also nuanced by the unsunny clime of the English coast, surely was felt by the younger.

Bob Law, "Drawing 21.4.59," 1959
Courtesy of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills

The 1960's and 1970's Minimalist art embraced in the United States and Europe had an uphill slog in England. Though Law was represented by excellent galleries and had some critical support, his work did not achieve the recognition of his American coeval Robert Ryman. That has changed since a small 2004 survey held in London.

Law methodically strips away details to reach the void, what curator Douglas Fogle calls "the ghostly, emptied out theater of white nothingness." Though Law operated from systems, a poetic mysticism undergirds his beliefs and his aesthetics.

Bob Law, "Castle CCCXXXV 7.05.01," 2001
Courtesy of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills

The show includes his open drawings, closed drawings, black drawings and paintings. Only towards the end of his life do we see blocks of stacked primary colors representing the architectural outlines of a castle. All in all, it is offers a tantalyzing glimpse of a lost talent. It continues through September. 10.