James Bishop, a painter whose quietly hued works developed a cult following in New York and Paris, has died at 93. According to Le Monde, Bishop died in Dreux, a French town not far from Blévy, where he was based, on February 16.
Bishop’s abstractions are often composed of large expanses of just a few colors. Because he was active during the postwar era, his work has drawn comparisons to various movements, such as Abstract Expressionism and Supports/Surfaces, a French group that relied on abstraction to consider the basic structures that constitute painting. But Bishop was content to describe himself as “an Abstract Expressionist of the quieter branch.”
The artist’s loyal fan base, which has grown in recent years as his work has been reconsidered, has included critics Carter Ratcliff, John Ashbery, and John Yau, as well as art historian Molly Warnock, who has written extensively on Bishop’s practice. In a 1966 issue of ARTnews, Ashbery wrote, “It is a shame that Bishop’s paintings, partly owing to his personal aloofness, seem destined for neglect in both New York and Paris, for he is one of the great original American painters of his generation.”
Born in Neosho, Missouri, in 1927, Bishop studied art under the tutelage of Esteban Vicente at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which would later become a hotbed of avant-garde activity. He went on to study art history with Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University. He moved to Paris in 1958 and remained in France for much of his career.
In France, the formal qualities of his work were embraced by an emerging crop of artists who read the influential journal Tel Quel. For many, one of the most compelling aspects of Bishop’s abstractions was the way that they seemed to refer to frames and methods of presentation—some of his painted forms featured half-visible squares arranged in rows appearing on a canvas that was itself square. (Such an aesthetic seems to evoke Minimalist art, but Ratcliff urged against such comparisons, writing in 1988 in Artforum, “Minimalists sublimate evidence of process, converting it to data; though elusive and sometimes fading to invisibility, the traces of Bishop’s hand preserve their charge of personal meaning.”)
Bishop’s art was the subject of a 1993–94 survey that traveled to the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and the Westfälisches Landesmuseum in Münster, Germany. In 2014, David Zwirner held a solo show of the artist’s work at its New York gallery.
On the occasion of the David Zwirner show, Yau wrote in Hyperallergic, “I would urge anyone who cares about what an artist can do with paint to go and immerse themselves in this beautiful, sensitive, astringent exhibition.”