Art style

Art Review: Art History and Modernism Converge in Portland Gallery’s First Exhibition

There’s a new art venue in town: Alice Gauvin Gallery, located on the stretch of York Street towards Casco Bay Bridge from Yosaku Restaurant. A native of Mainer, Gauvin studied at Colby College and the University of Cambridge and most recently worked in the conservation department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The inaugural show she has assembled is called “Stages” (until January 29), a column which, despite its Aristotelian philosophical principle (“while the story may be devoid of apparent meaning, the drama must be plausible », According to press documents), essentially brings together five artists of disparate styles who stage scenes on canvas.

This is of course what most artists do. What is more interesting is how the majority of the paintings in the exhibition use the language of Modernism to refer to classical literature and art history. And with so many galleries focused on Maine artists, it’s refreshing to see a show that has nothing to do with the state or its artists.

The star here is Thaddeus Radell. His paintings are often ruminations on Shakespearean works (especially “King Lear”) and Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”. But the specific subject is less important here than its technique.

Radell’s surfaces are thick encrustation of dry pigments mixed with cold wax and oil paint. They are so densely coagulated in several parts that they look like crusts that one could pull out of the plane of the image. I imagine that, years from now, it will be a restaurateur’s nightmare.

But the accumulation of material is exactly the point. This is the process by which Radell coaxes his characters into the world. Yes, you could say that about a lot of artists who do figurative work. But what sets Radell apart is that this trowel application of gooey matter leaves his subjects mysteriously unfinished. They don’t seem quite formed, as if they are still being born. The effect is endlessly fascinating.

Thaddeus Radell, “Night Revelers”, 2020-’21, oil and wax on panel, 20 “x30” Photo courtesy of the artist

In “Night Revelers”, for example, one can discern shapes resembling figures. But a head can just be a coagulated drop that is white or pink in color. To the right of the canvas, a figure resembles a man on horseback, perhaps with some sort of spear.

I don’t know what the reference is here, although it reminded me of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”. But it could just as easily be a group of guests at the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” wedding or the souls Dante meets in Hell’s inner circle.

Many of these works bear witness to a distinct Renaissance concern for myth and storytelling, but seem to portray the crude and nascent ideas of future allegorical works captured as they begin to emerge from the murky obscurity of consciousness. the artist.

Thaddeus Radell, “Ocher Interior”, 2019, oil pastel, graphite and wax crayon on Bristol paper, 11 ″ x17 ″ Photo courtesy of the artist

The characters are more defined in Radell’s drawings, although their feverishly sketched quality still leaves them quite ambiguous. “Interior ocher” represents four characters. On the left, we seem to be wearing dresses that are perhaps clerics. The other characters seem uncomfortably linked or prostrate. The one circled in red is reminiscent of Saint Sebastian; the one to his right appears hooded.

Again, the subject is elusive. The figures take on classic Renaissance poses – perhaps martyred. The masked figure could be a replacement for Minos, the judge who sentences sinners entering the Second Circle of Hell to various torments appropriate to their offenses. Or this interior could be a torture chamber in Abu Ghraib.

Whatever his thematic intention, the power of Radell’s paintings lies in their ability to evoke broad themes emerging from a sort of primitive mud. They alone are worth the trip to the gallery.

Another artist who revels in the material qualities of painting is Simon Carr, represented here by various arrangements of still lifes of vegetables. Still life, of course, has been a recurring genre since the Dutch masters. Unlike their ancestors, however, Carr’s paintings lack the symbolism of Dutch works, romantic light, and 18th-century atmospheres.e– and 19eEuropean varieties of the last century, or the compositional audacity of something from Braque or Picasso.

Simon Carr, “Garlic II”, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 16 ″ x20 ″ Photo courtesy of the artist

Instead, Carr’s works have an overall quality that escapes a central purpose. The most successful of them is “Garlic”. It works well because it evokes something beyond what it obviously is. While the title tells us what we’re looking at, the loosely rendered heads are also reminiscent of crumpled pieces of paper, an overhead view of Impressionist apple trees in bloom, or Monet’s haystacks. This abstract representation gives “garlic” a more interesting depth and dimension.

Two large paintings by Emily Zuch adopt another artistic conception dating from the Middle Ages: that of the self-portrait reflected in a mirror. Artists as diverse as Parmigianino, Rembrandt, Rockwell, and Avedon have embraced this trope. Zuch’s versions are graphically flat, with little depth of perspective.

Emily Zuch, “Pinwheel”, 2019, oil on canvas, 42 × 42 ″ Photo courtesy of the artist

But beyond the self-portraits, “Legs” and “Pinwheel” are also amalgamations of references to the history of art. In the first, for example, it’s a glove stuck to the wall (by Chirico), a book on Henri Rousseau, and a copy of a Renaissance painting – all mixed up with a bit of kitsch (which looks like Daisy, Blondie and the Dagwood Dog from the popular comics).

“Pinwheel” includes, among other references, a Tang Dynasty style horse, another glove and a postcard à la Matisse. Are these storyboards inspirations from Zuch? We can’t be sure. But the random seems a little calculated and, therefore, a little pretentious. Their flatness and large size also makes them feel pretty much everywhere, offering no place for the eye to rest.

I much preferred its magnificent landscape “Green Window” and “Zurbarán in a Box”, a kind of joke on the history of art which humorously traps the Saint Serapion of Francisco de Zurbarán in a nightmarish grid à la Mondrian.

Xico Greenwald, “Shelf”, 2021, oil on canvas on cardboard, 55 × 48 ″ Photo courtesy of Alice Gauvin Gallery

Xico Greenwald also painted still lifes, in his case variously inspired by Roman frescoes, 17e– century of Spanish still lifes and, although he does not quote it, Pop Art. I’m adding the latter because, while some have more soil depth than Zuch’s, they’re also quite flat and graphic. The objects do not overlap (those in “Shelf” do not even cast shadows), and although the brushstrokes are more expressive, the paintings exude a certain pragmatism. These are all qualities of Pop Art.

Rachel Rickert is the only one who doesn’t seem to refer to more historical genres and, as such, feels a bit like an anomaly here. Although she has drawn comparisons to Pierre Bonnard and Mary Cassatt, her nudes are small, intimate, and candid in a very contemporary way. His larger works – one depicting a building and the other a shower curtain – are devoid of human presence and, thus, lose their sense of privacy entirely. What remains struck me as less interesting and a bit bland, despite their monumental proportions.

All in all, it’s a promising start. But I would say there is too much unrelated content here, despite the organizing philosophical premise. I look forward to more focused shows in the future. I could see, for example, an interesting conversation emerging between the works of Greenwald and Zuch, or between those of Radell and Carr. But amidst the clamor of such diverse artistic voices, it is impossible to hear these exchanges.

You can see for yourself this Saturday, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., when Gauvin will host a reception to celebrate the gallery’s debut on the Portland art scene.

Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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