Friday, October 22, 2004

Taos Gallery Presents Figurative Paintings With Deep Psychological Overtones

By Tom Collins
For the Journal
ABOUT ART: I have a great deal of sympathy for talented, contemporary realist painters. I keep thinking of the poor things wandering around with little bracelets around their wrists stamped with the acronym: W W J L-D P?— "What would Jacques Louis-David paint?"
It's a question that comes to mind every time I see psychologically tweaked realist paintings such as those by Stacy Brown at Parks Gallery in Taos. Like several other local realist painters that come to mind, Brown's vignettes and recent "non-portrait paintings" point up the difficulties of choosing subject matter, not to mention content or meaning.
Back in the old days, when the patrons were either the church or the state (aristocracy and royalty are implied, if not denoted, in each), there wasn't much of a problem. Subject and content were already chosen for the artist. Scenes, characters, parables from the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology and the lives of the rich and famous, queens and kings, past and present were all the painter needed to work with. From Giotto to Goya, storytelling with pictures, "narrative" painting, worked wonderfully well.
But not long after Goya came the camera, and rather than a painting of the "Third of May," we had photographs of My Lai. So here's the question: once anyone could create, by simply pushing a button, the same thing that a great court painter once made with brush and paints on canvas, what was the painter of things and people and events to do? Make it up, for starters. And since every picture tells a story, make it weird.
Indeed, Brown can paint. She applies what seem like layer upon layer of oil glazes so that when her subjects do appear it is as if they do so by magic accumulation rather than illustration. Brown's subjects are not so much weird as weirdly captured in the actual and psychological canvas space. "Icarus Fishing," a triptych of oddly sized canvases puzzled together, is a perfect example of this manner of highly personal, inscrutable, if not impenetrable, realist story-telling. In an outdoor setting— a suburban backyard, perhaps— a man talks on a cell phone, his back to us, against the backdrop of a wall-fence as a boy in red t-shirt crawls on all fours on the lawn. Meanwhile, flames (presumably Icarus hitting the earth) shoot up on the other side of the wall. To quote Dylan: "You know something's happening, but you don't know what it is ... "
And it's way beyond writer Raymond Carver. Indeed, I am always curious about what Brown, and painters of this manner, are actually really thinking when they're putting together little bizarre Raymond Carver stories like this in picture. In other words, I want them to write me a story, and I'll draw the pictures. But Brown can paint and render it like nobody's business, and her profile portrait of local painter Frank Ettenberg against a ground of warmly luminous adobe-brown is a real stunner. Brown gets effects like the light on the arm of his glasses, the halo of slight bald spot and hair achieved with that edgy combination of intense control and relaxed looseness.
Brown's tour de force surely is the 12-square-foot "Boy Jumping from a Chair," which commands attention even from the room beyond where it hangs. The larger-than-life-size lad in white muscle-T and blue surfer shorts, arms thrown back as if ready to dive into a swimming pool, is dramatically lit against a scumbled ground of brilliant white cut by the green curve and slats of the chair back. The painting, with its intense chiaroscuro and high-gloss hard-shell varnish finish, shines and penetrates like a cibachrome print.
The large portrait, again dramatically lit, of the young Jehovah's Witness devotee, Bible under his arm, a "Hello: My Name Is" tag as blank as his white shirt and the look on his face, though it is supposedly "Rapture," is a deeply disturbing portrait against a gorgeously toned atmosphere of greens and light, frond-like apparitions. These paintings are chilling and disturbing like an Avedon portrait, and as mysterious and teasing as the exhibition's title.

WHAT: Stacy Brown: Raptors and Other Relatives, new paintings
WHEN: Through Oct. 30
WHERE: Parks Gallery, 127 Bent St., Taos, (505) 751-0343

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