Group Show at David Lusk Gallery: July 5 – 29
WORDS Noah Saterstrom
One viewer might associate meticulousness in painting with the established traditions of high art, with the well- hewn craft of a dedicated artist. Think of the luxurious history of art acquisitions: Precious objects are slowly made, proudly bought, and carefully preserved.
Another viewer might associate the same meticulousness in painting with retrograde anti-modern piety. Fastidious easel painters buttoned up against their own animal instincts carefully blend away evidence of chaos with no. 1 filbert brushes.
The joy of art, of course, is that either is true, neither is true, or both are true. This month at David Lusk Gallery the walls are hung with paintings and drawings defined by deliberate and conscientious mark-making.
The epic gestures that crashed onto the history of painting in the early 20th century reframed how painters think of themselves. Iconic images of Edwardian painters in waistcoats, replete with easels and lounging house cats, were turned on their heads by improvisational deviants who painted on the floor and ashed cigarettes while scrubbing brush to canvas.
The result of this oppositional dichotomy is that modern-day artists can choose for themselves not only what but how to paint. Mark-makers can be highly experimental with a painstaking approach to painting (e.g., Nozkowski), and as a result representational or figurative painting is no longer fighting for its life.
Really? which opens on July 5, includes the work of Rocky Horton, Beth Edwards, Bonnie Maygarden, Luisi Mera, and Mary Sims. Ostensibly, the link between this varied selection of work is the highly detailed rendering across images. The brushwork or graphic mark is patient and descriptive, while the images are developed slowly. Beyond that, the artists definitively diverge, each implementing their own faithfully wrought method.
Rocky Horton’s flower painting, Fiori 2, is a regal symmetry. Brueghel the Elder’s flowers are plucked straight out of 16th-century Brussels and given cosmic significance, while the grim sophistication of oil painting’s early days is maintained.
In contrast, Beth Edwards’s works are more light-hearted contrivances, colorful and dreamy, gleaming with atmosphere. Meadow II is a curious pastoral scene bursting with simultaneously complementary and discordant images: giant flowers, a bee, a toy duck, and a single cloud. Even as the crowded scene disorients any sense of scale, distance, or reason, the clean airiness of Edwards’s works gives a feeling of euphoria.
The least tucked-in of the group, Mary Sims, brings to Really? a more illustrative sensibility. Her characters gaze out from a theatrical vignette with the cryptic imagery and graphic quality of tarot cards.
Art terms can sometimes be nebulous or flexible, but Realism, which has curiously been used in reference to this show, has fairly well-defined qualities: faithfulness to lived experience (irrespective of beauty or ugliness); avoidance of artificiality or allegory; the depiction of ordinary subjects. And while this show weaves through many subjects, Realism is not one. The works do pull from the richness of art history, the flagrant joyfulness of Pop Art and Kitsch, the theatre of illustration, and more.
Perhaps, however, the one true thing that these artists share is a love of meticulous painting. Even the Flemish oil painters with their one-haired brushes rendering individual feathers on pheasants knew there comes a point at which you must estimate the infinite. Some artworks take a long time to make. Some artworks happen in minutes. How to value these things is up to the market. But is there not an inherent value in slowing down, in both the making and the viewing of painting?
The connection here, then, is perhaps best said by Theodore Roethke: “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.”
Really? Is on view at David Lusk Gallery July 5 through 29. An opening reception is slated for July 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.davidluskgallery.com.