How Many Miles to Babylon:
Recent Painting From Los Angeles and New York
Curated by Peter Frank
Dec. 17 to Jan 16th, 2016
By MARY HRBACEK, JAN. 2016
The exhibition entitled “How Many Miles to Babylon: Recent Painting from Los Angeles and New York,” at C24 Gallery in New York City, explores the complexities of the diverse genres pursued by eight contemporary artists who work in New York and Los Angeles. Curated by Peter Frank, the show juxtaposes the works of mature artists, in a salute to the tradition of painting, which is best realized by independent thinking and personal idiosyncrasy. The artists on view employ creative methods and techniques that give insight into the underpinnings that empower them to achieve their artistic visions. The show displays the art of painting in its varied individual guises, to challenging effect. Marc Dennis, Chris de Boschnek (NY), Jedd Garet, (LA-NY) and Geraldine Neuwirth (NY - LA), Fatemeh Burns, Lezley Saar, F. Scott Hess, and Heather Gwen Martin (LA) create work that ranges from narrative realistic figuration, graphic, process based, or digitally enhanced abstraction and symbolic poetic representation with digital imagery, to framed painted conceptual art. This impressive mix of ingenious, skillfully rendered paint media, astutely orchestrated, highlights the diversity that distinguishes the tradition in the 21st century, on the two coasts.
Fatemeh Burns (LA) follows an imaginative representational bent that stresses expansive natural networks of branches, which weave through lush eco-systems that interact with and support them. The complexities of her tableaux compel a closer look; they inspire a feeling of infinite space, movement and growth. Burns expresses her life experiences in her brilliant dreamlike imagery that delves into deep unfolding space, via webs of intricate tree trunks and limbs, combined with geometric structures, in rhythmic orchestrations that unfold throughout the format. She appears to be thoroughly absorbed with nature, whether it is human and internal or the nature that exists in the outside world. While the film “Avatar” may have been an inspiration, the indefinable works include configurations, forms, patterns and geometric shapes that are original to the creative drive of this artist’s personality. In her statement, Burns remarks that she is concerned with the “history we have made that is defined by energy not time.” Her oeuvre defies labels of any kind.
Jedd Garet, who recently returned to NY after living in LA, displays the inventive, whimsical characteristics of an LA artist. He explores shaped canvases, in dream-like works often accentuated by blurred ethereal pristine colors that allude to images culled from contemporary popular culture or architectural ruins. In his innovative process Garet integrates a variety of computer strategies with manipulated gestures. He favors ruined architectural fragments, centered within the formats that provide poetic allusions to past cultures, or possibly reference the passage of time and its ravages. In his painting entitled “The Most Beautiful French Actress in Red Chiffon (archival pigment on canvas), he employs swirling cloudlike forms that suggest sunsets, in conjunction with a lavender anemone plant that acts as a footnote of natural freshness in the scene. Jedd Garet’s bright imaginative paintings refer to his life, his observations, and his thoughts. Garet is a master at creating beautiful liquid looking hues in uniquely vibrant original color relationships that float in a luminous mist.
With voyeuristic flair, Marc Dennis accentuates popular cultural concerns, juxtaposing scenes of great art with unlikely viewers. Dennis suggests that everyone anywhere can appreciate masterworks through the span of time. His virtuoso command of the painting medium brings hyper-realistic fantasy narratives into the realm of believable reality. In the work entitled “Ironman, Captain America and a Russian Mobster Walk into a Bar” (2015) he displays a villain and two imaginary superheroes, all seen from behind, gazing at Manet’s Impressionist masterpiece “A Bar At the Follies-Bergere.” This viewpoint in some sense shuts the actual viewer out, by establishing a distance. Perhaps Dennis identifies with the larger than life figures that share the same fascination with the masterworks that he does.
F. Scott Hess also employs master techniques expertly, in imagery from contemporary life and from pop culture. In his art, he sees life’s issues from a personal standpoint. Hess worked in Vienna, Austria with Rudolf Hausner of the School of Fantastic Realism, which made a major impact on his art; in his painting “Dancing At the Edge of Time,” a man and a woman jitterbug in space in a swirl of furnishings that seems to comprise the material effects of their lives and the memories they created there. The piece comments on the rapidity of change, on the impossibility of keeping tabs of life’s constant flux and its speed which generates a sense of flying in rhythmic circles.
Lezley Saar employs a hermetic personal vocabulary of mysterious symbols that do not readily reveal their intended meaning. In her metaphoric imagery, she alludes to her personal sense of estrangement, pain and uncertainty. Her paintings evoke fantastic, poetic underpinnings that may relate to the unconscious mind, to real and mythical characters and also to the history of a foreign culture. Raising an autistic child has spurred her to explore the realm of the unusual. Her portraits examine individuals who have survived the unthinkable. Saar’s works stress an imaginative dreamlike message that includes references ranging from the historical to the cosmic, done in a figurative representational approach.
Heather Gwen Martin’s reductive brightly colored abstract paintings display pure color contained in forms that empower her narratives, which she relates by placement of shapes near each other or at a distance to one another. Her enchantment with bell-like color tones weaves its way into the substance of her work to create a personal statement, in an approach that references the Henri Matisse cutouts. Bright colored shapes floating in an equally bright ground dominate Martin’s abstract strategy.
Enthralled by the spectacle of the world of the circus ring, Geraldine Neuwirth constructs complex revolving rings and forms on layers of paper that allude metaphorically to the process of life, to time, energy and to spiritual and historical issues. She builds cycles of shapes that repeat in patterns on the formats. Neuwirth de-saturates her colors with black, diminishing their purity as they relate in a field of competing colors. Neuwirth explores systems of layered circles and hues in an abstract format that is linked to the art of Elizabeth Murray with some inspiration from Frank Stella’s later works.
Chris de Boschnek’s conceptual works appear to be concerned with an abstract central image in the composition, bordered by glass that is set in the broad white space that surrounds it. The shadows cast by the frame create a ghostlike presence that lends an ethereal quality of fragility to the works on view. This experimental work is indirectly related to the tradition of painting. Chris de Boschnek’s art, untitled and framed, is purely conceptual.
The premise of the show is to explore, compare, and especially to celebrate painting traditions by notable independently thinking artists from LA and NY. The amount of diverse imagery in the show requires the viewer to focus diligently, to consider the range of genres, symbols, images and concepts that create tension as one grapples with their possible meanings, comparing and contrasting similarities and differences. The viewer must decide which artists display a particular willingness to risk, to take chances, to express their vision fully, without restraint. In NY I have noticed that when a work displays an imaginative or transformative vibe, it is promptly dubbed “surreal” and dismissed. Standardization is anathema to inventiveness. It seems possible that in LA there is a feeling of openness and a sense of free-spiritedness that support the unconventional and the independent. Conceptual art, minimalism, pop art and the New York School continue to thrive in NY. Peter Frank’s intention to showcase the medium of paint succeeds; in its unique capacity to express personal imagery, “quirky mindsets,” and ideas in genres that span imaginative, transformative and representational forms, the show extols the individuality that brings to art the ability to touch the viewer and to introduce fresh modes of seeing that can and do ultimately change the world. WM
Mary Hrbacek is an artist who has been writing about art in New York City since the late 1990s. She has had more than one hundred reviews published in The M Magazine/The New York Art World, and has written in print and on-line NY Artbeat.com, Artes Magazine, d’Art International, Culture Catch.com and Whitehot Magazine. Her commentary spans a broad spectrum, from the contemporary cutting-edge to the Old Masters.view all articles from this author