Henry Geldzahler, August 1983

The biography of every artist of achievement reads as singular and startling. What makes artists (and works of art) so fascinating is the many ways in which they defy categorization. In spite of a hundred years of art history as a respectable branch of the liberal arts, no rules have been successfully laid down as to what constitutes "quality." Nor is there agreement on what makes a fertile or even probable training ground for artists. Genius incubates freely. Artists may share common presuppositions or belong to a collective "School," and yet what dominates always is that which is singular over that which is held as common ground.

In its heavy footed way the Germanic discipline of art history tries to write the history of causes, effects, and influences. The late French esthetician Henri Focillon perhaps came closest to the inexplicable "truth" of art as he leapt through time in search of 'families of mind' to account for parallels art and artists of various eras that defy causality. Artists from varying cultures and times reveal to us common attitudes, world-views, and sensibilities. Domenico Paulon has wrestled with such questions of our shared humanity for six decades; his life-long quest for the underlying principles in nature, science, and art constitutes as much a philosophical search as an artistic one. He as obviously mastered the twin mysteries in painting - the disposition of forms on a flat rectangular support, and the ways in which color juxtapositions create harmony and mood. His path to this knowledge is personal, hard won, and worth describing. Paulon has followed a track that has led him through tradition to a place he has cleared for himself.

A glance at his biography gives us a sense of the way in which history and personal choice placed Domenico Paulon in important centers of research in the visual arts. First Rome, from 1919-23, where as a young man he studied art and architecture at the Istitudo di Belle Arti. The courses and instruction at this well known academy reinforced a tradition concerned with the basics of anatomy, figure drawing, classical esthetics and techniques of composition and rendering, and art history. Steeped in the past, Paulon's education at Rome laid the foundations for his commitment to the reinvestigation of pictorial space.

How great an impact this tradition must have had on the studious, alert and curious young Domenico Paulon, in his early twenties, as it stood in counterpoint to the teachings of Marinetti and the Futurists, with their shattered and refitted vision of a new world. Here, and to a lesser extent in the Metaphysical School, Paulon found a model for Humanism, Urbanism and the Industrial Era co-existing in new and dynamic ways.

Lugano, 1934

Paulon spent the years 1923-26 in Lugano, Ticino (Italian Switzerland), painting, and occasionally exhibiting. Because of his excitable nature and his endless fascination with the pure, "musical" principles in the visual arts, Paulon has, consistently in his long life, retreated from the distractions of the world to his studio, where he is able to work out the pictorial implications of newly acquired information.

In 1927 Paulon moved on to Berlin. His main preoccupation during the next six years were with his other interests, industrial design and architecture. During this period he worked with Walter Gropius, one of the founders of the Bauhaus. With Gropius, for the Adler Werke in Frankfurt am Main, he helped design the first car based on aerodynamic principles. During the years 1927-33, Paulon also worked in advertising and fashion design. In 1933, alert to the implications of Hitler's rise to power, Paulon left Berlin for Switzerland, after first warning his colleagues that Germany was undergoing barbaric changes.

Again he settled in Lugano to paint and sculpt. One speculates that it was just these periods of self-enforced isolation that allowed Paulon to absorb and make his own the new directions in art that were flourishing in Rome and Berlin. One can see in his later studies of butterflies and in his analysis of Piero della Francesca, based on the scientific principles of rhythm, balance, variation and harmony, how much he absorbed during the Berlin years concerning design in its purest and most functional principles.

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism, an analysis based on the law of biological growth

After this second Lugano period, 1933-36, Domenico Paulon, ever in search of intellectual stimulation, lived for period in Paris and London (1937-38). With the second World War devastating Europe, Paulon came to New York in 1939. His intuition in locating excitement and innovation in the visual arts again stood him in good stead. In just those years, New York was becoming the new world capital of art. Because of the war, Mondrian, Leger, Miro, Ernst, Chagall and many others came to live and paint in the quintessential American city, the symbol of modernity in the minds of so many Europeans. Gertude Stein once said that America was the oldest country in the world because because it was the first to enter the twentieth century. Perhaps by ascribing to this reasoning, Paulon, along with so many other Europeans, helped justify the new confidence in American art by throwing his lot in with his American colleagues.

Paulon spent his first six years in New York (1939-45) working free-lance in industrial and commercial design. We have seen that his natural life-rhythm demanded periods of consolidation and quietude, withdrawal almost, from the taxing concerns of making art, an activity that Paulon was constitutionally incapable of taking lightly. These gestation periods allowed him the luxury to later struggle in his studio with new ideas concerning the ways in which traditions harmonized with contemporary esthetic sensibility.

Domenico and Anna, mid-1980s

Through the support and encouragement of his wife and best friend Anna, whom he married in 1943, Paulon was able to devote himself entirely to painting "Paining is Domenico's greatest passion. He lives and breathes his art, from the moment he rises early each morning until late at night," says Anna Paulon. "He is a prodigious artist, a thorough man who is always seeking perfection." For forty years these partners in art have lived in the same Greenwich Village apartment.

Because of this new stability in his life, Paulon was able to dedicate the years 1946-62 exclusively to painting. He has described his two primary concerns during these years as: "1. Reviewing the vital creative elements that constitute the distinction and similitude in esthetics of different epochs, cultures, and peoples, and 2. Analyzing design structure and the biological laws of growth in nature through original and systematic studies of nature's physical aspect—of ratio and proportion and the playful function of color in butterflies, birds and fish.

An analysis of rhythms and color, based on the law of biological growth

Just as literal and virisimilitudinous sculpture challenged and fascinated the younger Paulon in his Lugano and Berlin years, the scientific analysis of the rhythms and harmonies in nature applied to the organization of pictorial space was the subject of years of drawing, thinking, and re-drawing, in New York. In both sculpture and painting, Paulon's belief in the necessity to transcend the accidental and the momentary, in order to come to grips with the formal and intellectual essences that are immanent in our perceptions, was the motivating force in his extensive and heroic investigations.

The crowning period in his career (thankfully a prolonged and still vibrating one), has been lived out in New York City in the past twenty years, beginning in 1963, when the fully developed Paulon reaped the fruits of his hard work in many successful paintings in which he has harnessed the phenomenology of color to rigorous principles. His devotion to contemporary abstract painting, and his contribution to the history of art through his lively and scientific analysis of color, developed in the middle sixties and grew in authority over the succeeding decades. During these years, and always in league with his wife Anna, he has supplemented his income and articulated his ideas through teaching and lecturing.

It is in the fully realized abstract rhythms and harmonies of his painting in he past ten years that Paulon demands and deserves our respect and attention. Just as his evolution was singular, so has his reception as an artist been arduous. Paulon has chosen not to be an art world 'player.' He knows what he knows: thinking, drawing and paining, alone in his studio. It comes as a pleasant shock to find that a Paulon painting is illustrated in the notable avant-garde publication of 1959, IT IS, in which his work is comfortable and of equal quality with that of his New York colleagues, the Abstract Expressionists. It is as if Paulon peeked his head out from time to time to see and be seen.

Triade, 1952, 37 1/2 x 52"

But it is only now, in his eighties, that proper retrospective attention is being paid to his achievement. A former student has risen to his cause as an anonymous angel, making it possible for Domenico Paulon's work to be seen, through both this catalog and the exhibitions it accompanies. I have no doubt that in its circuitous and elephantine way the 'art world,' the public for art, will come to admire and absorb these rigorous and spirited paintings into the cultural memory. Domenico Paulon has made a valuable contribution to the tradition in esthetics and painting that has been his life's concern.