October 2008, Conceptual Figures @ Deitch Projects

October 2008, Conceptual Figures @ Deitch Projects
Installation View, Conceptual Figures at Deitch

Conceptual Figures


September 04, 2008 - September 27, 2008
76 Grand Street, New York

Open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 12PM to 6PM


 Conceptual Figures, a group show featuring the oil paintings and drawings of twelve artists will be on display at the Deitch Gallery in SoHo from September 04 to September 27, 2008. Their press release describes “Conceptual Figuration” as the use of figurative forms to relate concepts through an intellectualized symbolism. Hence, the picture means more than the artist’s impression of the model; it conveys ideas.

 However, since all of art history has been a struggle to express feelings or ideas through visual form, the term “Conceptual Figuration” is more a classification of a specific, pre-existing kind of art than a new movement. Genres aside, anyone who likes art can appreciate the skillful, unique, and concise works in this show. Many of the painters in Conceptual Figures are recent art school graduates, and perhaps this is why they have chosen the traditional techniques of figuration and portraiture to convey their concepts.

 Much of the work deals thematically with the physicality of the human body. The body, taken at face value, is a physical object, at once owned by the mind and subject to the atmosphere of it’s current place.

 Anders Oinonen uses geometric fields and planes of vibrant color to depict faces. In In The Midst, a lamenting or inquisitive face rests horizontally across the picture plane, as if laying down. The shapes in the face can be imagined as other forms, forms that provide insight into physical possibilities, or what is happening to the person. The tabular, three dimensional plane of the figure’s nose resembles a book jutting out, while the face rests on a surface declining toward the right of the canvas. The figure could be passing through a difficult, contemplative experience.

 The work of Ridley Howard alludes to the physicality of being. In Ridley’s “Anada, Jacksonville,” a woman stares at the viewer, her face devoid of expression save for a slight, almost imperceptible curling of the lips. The color palette is somber, the rendering clean and reminiscent of Alex Katz, but more detailed. In the background, a bleak gray sky surrounds cloudlike white forms, suggesting an overcast day. The title “Anada, Jacksonville,” could be a caption for a souvenir vacation photo. There is no additional information or emotion expressed other than the visual capturing of the woman. The painting makes a statement about one’s body in relation to it’s location. It serves as a mock documentation of one woman’s appearance, in a place, at a specific point in time.

 Howard‘s “Bourbon” carries a similar existential message. The small canvas depicts nothing but a close up of a man drinking a glass of bourbon. Howard seems to address the physical nature of being a person – everyone is the owner and controller of their own body, their actions the evidence of their vitality. The titles of Howard‘s paintings, like those of many of the artists in Conceptual Figures, complement the images in delivering their message. This is testament to the conceptual, almost literary nature of the work.

 A standout of the show is the work of Caleb Constantine. Constantine’s oddly proportioned and expressive figures, painted in translucent washes and thin, anemic layers of oil paint are reminiscent of R.B. Kitaj. Constantine, according to his Artist’s Statement, is a believer that the body requires special “care and maintenance.” He depicts figures in scenarios ranging from rejuvenation to physical hazard. “Massage” shows a man massaging a woman’s back, her body appearing three dimensional and tactile in it’s white dress. The man’s simplified facial features subtly betray effort and satisfaction.

 Conceptual Figuration may be too specific a term to become one for the art history books, but Conceptual Figures contains the work of several imaginative, thoughtful artists with promising futures.

whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Dan Tarnowski

Dan Tarnowski has published reviews of culture, and several chapbooks of his poetry. He lives in Brooklyn.

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