By KATHLEEN MASSARA, JAN. 2015
“I am always blamed if I approach my subject on any but its picturesque side,” John Ruskin wrote to The Daily Telegraph in 1870.
To be sure, figurative drawing 145 years after Ruskin wrote this complaint is a different gamble. In 2015, we often expect art to be “challenging”, or “difficult”, or any number of other adjectives that relay some level of discomfort on the part of the viewer. The artist Daniel Maidman, however, attempts to create life drawings people will find beautiful, and the results are on display at Dacia Gallery in the Lower East Side until January 18th.
This word, “beauty”, is much-maligned these days, even by those in the art world who've followed Pierre Boudieu's critique of taste, or Sigmund Freud's narcissism of minor differences. I'm certainly suspicious of it, even though I have nothing against flowers or sunsets. But Serious Art, we're often told, is not about Beauty. Despite this prognosis, for nearly two decades, Maidman has been dutifully attending life-drawing workshops, and the artist and arts blogger has gone to battle on behalf of figurative drawing in the age of post-historical art. Last year, Maidman wrote a blog on the Huffington Post after he posted an image of his work on Facebook, and the art critic Jerry Saltz commented, "Is this 'art', though? Isn't it just so-called academic figuration?"
In other words, is life drawing "just practice”, and meant to be kept in the bottom drawer of an artist’s studio, or is it worthy of being on public display? For thousands of years, people have depicted themselves, or others, via figurative art, and yet presenting sketches of nudes in a gallery, now, seems brash. But what is wrong with this, exactly?
There's nothing wrong with it. That's the answer. But personally, I wish Maidman had depicted more variety of bodies in this brief, but jam-packed show. Many of the nudes on display, done in graphite and white Prismacolor, are thin, athletic forms. The men often have well-defined six-packs, and the women are often depicted as toned, with visible ribs; many lack heads, and exist as torsos, although some, like Maidman's frequent model, Leah, are featured as studies with faces intact. “Jillian in Profile” (2014), for instance, depicts a slouching, attractive young woman with the outline of a braid sloping down her thin, curved back.
There are moments of beauty here, of course, but there's not enough risk. There's a stiffness to the poses that is a little unnerving. I wanted to imagine the brief hesitation of the pencil before a slash cuts the plane in half. I wanted to see blood coursing beneath the veins of the subjects, and less polite shading. In other words, I want to see bodies, but I want them from their unpicturesque side. This doesn't mean that these works need to depict tortured forms, à la Egon Schiele, or the sagging flesh of Lucien Freud's portraits, or the hard edges of Maria Lassnig's soft forms. But it's clear that Maidman has the skills to do more with less. Then again, maybe that's not what he's after. WM
Daniel Maidman, “Recent Drawings”, is on display at Dacia Gallery from January 15-18, 2015, in New York.
Kathleen Massara is the former Arts & Culture editor of the Huffington Post, and was a juror for Brooklyn CSA+D (Community Supported Art + Design)'s 2013 inaugural season . She has written for such publications as the Brooklyn Rail, L Magazine, N+1, Popular Science, the Sunday Times, and more.view all articles from this author