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
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.
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
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.
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 aspectof 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.
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.