November 2 – December 13, 1996
Contemporary Still Life Painting and Sculpture
Posing Reality: Contemporary Still Life Painting and Sculpture is an exhibition that presents the work of 10 artists whose work collectively represents issues within realistically rendered still life subjects. The paintings and sculptures that comprise the exhibition pose inquiries as to the relationship between the experiential reality of the commonplace and one that elevates the commonplace as it is transcribed by artistic intention and expression. Included in Posing Reality are the sculptures of Ming Fay, Gregory Gillespie, Richard Shaw, and Robert Therrien, and the paintings of Gordon Cook, Emily Eveleth, Frances Gillespie, Gregory Gillespie, Jane Lund, Norman Lundin, and Richard Maury. The exhibition is on view from November 2 through December 13. John Gibson, an artist who lives and teaches in the Amherst-Northampton area and whose work is the subject of a concurrent exhibition at the Gallery, will be discussing his work in relation to the still life tradition on Monday, November 18 at 7 p.m. in the Gallery.
Both the xenia of antiquity-the painting of 'still life' objects as free-standing easel paintings and as decorative frescoes and mosaics within architectural settings-and still life's later forms as developed during the 17th century, share the exclusion of the human form. There is as well a typical lack of narrative. As Norman Bryson explains in Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting (1990): "Still life pitches itself at a level where nothing exceptional happens." And, yet, for this very reason still life subjects provide the artist with opportunities to explore a range of formal and expressive qualities for their own sake.. A doubletake exists not only between observed and painted or sculpted reality, but in the way that the realistic mode serves to isolate a purely aesthetic space.
Gordon Cook (1925-1985) typically effaces all clues concerning depth in his paintings. Regards to Peto (1984) and Hat Form (1975), two paintings included in the exhibition, show an intense concentration on the shapes of fairly ordinary items, a concentration that approaches the uncanny. Depicted in an extremely shallow space without any indication of scale, the match box and hat form occupy a reality that exists only inside the painting. The essence of the images is their absence of context as Cook renders an abstraction, not of the object but of its idea.
Working in a nearly opposite manner, Richard Maury (b.1935) makes evident the particularity of places and objects. Though the spaces are shallow-somewhat of a prerequisite for the still life genre-Maury invites the viewer into his family's apartment in Florence. These are, in fact, rooms rather than spaces, rooms lived in and used, and despite the absence of human figures (they occasionally occupy his paintings), there is everywhere a sense of human touch. The artist strikes a masterful balance between lavishing attention on the disarray of the objects-scissors, crumpled papers, remnant of a rug-depicted in a sometimes hyperreal manner and cropping tightly "arranged" compositions around which the eye easily travels.
Sculptural concerns are, obviously, quite different than those of painting in that the work occupies three-dimensional space plus time. Being respectful of these concerns, there is, even so, some surface relationships between the sculptural and painted works in Posing Reality. Investigating simple objects as minimalist icons, Robert Therrien (b. 1947) shares an affinity with the interests of Gordon Cook. The trompe I' oeil effects achieved by Richard Shaw's (b.1941) ceramic pieces which, for the most part, speak about the tools used in artmaking, resemble the paintings of Richard Maury in terms of their illusionistic details and cropped views of work and living spaces. A certain lyricism is very much a part of Ming Fay's (b.1961) monumentalized vegetative forms as he explores our relationship with the natural world and the doughnut "portraits" of Emily Eveleth ( b.1960) dress an almost comical subject in anthropomorphic grandeur.
Psychological states, surface patterns, and tactile textures are some of the other issues presented by the participating artists in Posing Reality, interests which mayor may not be commonly shared. Underlying all of their work, however, is a fascination with the fleeting sensation sometimes perceived in the visual shift between degrees of reality.