I hope that Anthony E. Boone will not take it as a grievous offense when I suggest that his artwork could easily hang in a corporate atrium. (Perhaps it already does somewhere.) The sinuous quality of his lines, the soothing feeling of his juxtapositions of color, and his studied sense of composition add up to a style that’s easy on the eyes. To a passerby, Boone’s paintings and sculptures probably seem like exercises in balance and poise, respectful and history-aware, strongly reminiscent of the art of the celebrated New York abstract expressionists. It’s only when you spend a little time in front of them that the turbulence strikes.
And when it hits, it hits hard. An Anthony E. Boone original is full of struggle and striving. His paintings are a play of consummation and frustration, acceleration, hesitation, and acceleration again. Boone’s work is a train engine that runs so smoothly that you might not notice how fast you’re traveling. Like certain jazz players, he’s so good at harmony and composition that the volcanic emotions that underpin his projects are often secondary considerations for superficial appreciators. There’s no dodging the fierce currents and profound reverberations at “Full Circle,” a whirlwind solo performance that brings all the undercurrents of Boone’s art to the foreground. Call it what it is: the first must-see show of 2023.
It’s also the best and shrewdest use of the art space at the Journal Square PATH Station yet. “Full Circle,” which will hang at the Commuter Gallery through Black History Month, whips viewers out of the main space and into the chambers beyond. The show spills out onto the concourse, too. Boone’s comfort in a train station is no surprise: for years, his day job was at Conrail. That iron-bound past works its way into his art in manners both overt and subtle. The discarded machinery and scrap metal hammered together and painted black could be a byproduct of the world’s most artful steam-powered collisions. The glowing circles that flash from the maelstrom of lines and drips on Boone’s canvases have the guiding authority of signals on the Hackensack Bridge.
And as befits a transit veteran, Boone’s work is often suggestive of maps — tangled byways, overlapping vectors, and electrified thoroughfares in dense metropolitan areas. The artist seems determined to capture the peculiar dynamics of the overburdened network, even if he’s mainly charting his ferociously bent brainwaves. Works in his Jackson Pollack-like “Fabric of Life” series simultaneously resemble images of cities seen from space and the maze of connections between neurons. Boone throws everything he can at these mixed-media canvases: splatters of acrylic, ink scrawls, squiggles of string, folds of torn fabric. They pulse with motion. They’re the kind of works that might prompt a viewer to follow a dizzy line as it twirls, shifts, dances and eddies from one corner of the frame to its opposite.
His sculptural work is just as dense. My favorite piece in a show full of excellent pieces is a great amalgam of springs, coils, and conduits, heaped into the shape of a paramecium and spray-painted spumoni colors. From a distance, it has the welcoming quality of a fraying throw-rug suspended on the wall; seen up close, it resembles acres of old telephone cords chucked into a trash compactor. Boone has gotten this post-industrial waste to wake up and sing. Like the rest of his “In My Travels” series, the piece speaks of a life spent collecting disused objects, attuned to their possibilities, forever conscious of the plight of the abject.
Sometimes he goes straight for the spectacular gesture. But even on the hyper-vertical “Celestial Comet,” his showmanship is subordinate to his expression of the fierce grace that characterizes so much of his act. Lines of white paint cascades from the top of a blue panel in an unbroken stream. The impeccable composition of the piece makes the motion feel effortless. It’s a trip to a waterfall.
Boone’s personal symbol — the one that adorns his merch and his business cards, gives this exhibition its handle, and recurs straight throughout “Full Circle” — is a ring. Boone’s paint rings are always vigorously rendered, but they’re never perfectly round. They’re conduits of energy: always a little frayed, thinner in some places and thicker in others, blotchy on one side, dangerously thin on another. They connote unity, but not infinity; they’re too muscular to be fragile, but they’re imperiled nonetheless. Quite often, a starting point and a terminus are both visible. No matter how intense the backgrounds are rendered, the circles hold together tight amidst the storm of lines and nebulae of dots. Integrity, it seems, requires perseverance and poise under pressure. Superficially, Anthony Boone makes those things look easy. His works tell a different story. They let you know that they’re anything but.