"The Art of Describing" curated by Suzanne Dance
Opening: Thursday, January 17th 2008/6:30-8:30PM
Svetlanta Alpers’ 1983 treatise on Dutch art entitled “The Art of Describing” proposed that 17th century works produced in Holland reflected the Dutch interest in microscopy, map making, and the camera obscura. Alpers argued that northern 17th century art was not merely representational, but overtly descriptive, and deeply influenced by the visual advances made in science at the time. Dutch still life paintings of unfurled lemons (revealing sumptuous fruit) were perhaps inspired by recent 17th century advances in science and a desire to indulge in a greater ‘concrete knowledge’ of the world. “It is clear,” she notes, “that [these paintings] are devised as a feast for the attentive eye.” Similarly, Dutch portraiture offered a more realistic, less idealized (and sometimes moralistic) description of the sitter: Frans Hals’ “Merry Drinker” captures his buoyant sitter mid-word and mid-drink. This group show similarly entitled “The Art of Describing” features works by artists that bear a heritage to the northern Baroque period. In various ways, these artists present their own visual feasts and invite the viewer to consider gleaming surfaces, optical relations, and rebellious sitters.
Kathryn Hillier & Rebecca Veit’s still life photographs explore the tactile and spatial relationships between objects, and similar to 17th century northern still life paintings, offer views of ripe, exposed fruits displayed against rich fabrics and (what appear to be) sensual objects. Hillier & Veit collaborated on a series of still life photographs during an artist residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2006. Their “Never Wilting Flower” project explores the sense of space and surface of oddly exotic objects and fruits. Pomegranates, long symbols of fertility and abundance, spill from the casings in Pomegranate Piling. We are invited to delight in their sumptuous quality and the rich sheen of the fabric backdrops. The luminosity of the dark goblets produce a sense of formality and contrast in this work. In Lavish Fruits, the photograph puts us in the midst of a contemporary banquet: gold-leaf painted fruits reveal their colorful interiors while a chain-wrapped fork introduces the possibility of feasting on these gems! However, unlike the Dutch banquet still lives of the 17th century (tablecloths present), this visual feast exists in a minimalist space, thus forcing the viewer to delight in the objects and their relationships with no hidden narrative. Submerged Notes, in its formal display of objects, both plays with the literal destruction of words, and focuses the viewer on the surprising contrast of water and paper, horsehair and table. It is the formal arrangement of objects-seemingly-at-odds that draws the viewer in.
Michael Tole’s dreamy Faberge egg compositions are blurry explosions of gilt and color; their illusionistic feel relates back to photography and optics. The reflective surfaces of these richly-worked oil paintings recall Vermeer (and even Caravaggio’s) attention to the reflective qualities of objects. The artist derives his paintings from photographs taken at Dallas antique shops. The slightly distorted vantage point of the paintings opens the dialogue between painting and photography, fantasy and reality. The viewer is immediately inserted into this dizzying world of baroque objects, where surface is everything. The Faberge eggs appear suspended in time and space, and almost seem rich enough to eat! Untitled (Large Reflection), is a floating world of Faberge eggs, and considers the spatial relationship between viewer and painting, objects and painter. This work is reminiscent of the optical play that so fascinated 17th century painters, however, there is an abstract quality to the objects and the mood of the painting, which roots them in the contemporary world. Untitled (Horses) offers a greater sense of perspective and setting (it is the landscape view), while the opened wings of the one of the Faberge eggs beckons us into the fantasy.
The Victorian-inspired portraits painted by Barbara Rivera offer a contemporary revision to the staid feminine portrait of the 19th century. These more self-conscious portraits (all based on the artist herself) also bear a descriptive quality: the sitters break out of the picture plane and present the senses of taste and touch as they sample cotton candy and eat from bowls. These playful and somewhat rebellious portraits deny the societal restrictions of the Victorian era, and perhaps revert back to the playful realities depicted by Frans Hals and Gerard Dou in their more quotidian portraiture. Venus after Rossetti, stares back at the viewer defiantly, and projects a description of “taste” as she gazes out mid-bite. Cotton Candy engages in a similar dialogue of taste and touch, recalling Northern genre painting. Pavonia after Leighton (based on the 1858 portrait) and Benerice both offer contemporary takes on idealized female portraits. The artist has literally inserted herself into the history of art to make revisions. The smaller, and perhaps more precious size of the paintings and the defiance of the sitter makes for an interesting contrast.
Kathryn Hillier received a BFA in Photography from San Francisco Art Institute in 2003. She lives and works in Brooklyn. Rebecca Veit received a BFA in Photography from SanFrancisco Art Institute in 2003. She lives and works in Brooklyn. Michael Tole received a BA in Studio Art from University of Texas at Austin in 2000. He lives and works in Dallas, Texas. Barbara Rivera received a BFA in Painting & Graphic Design/ Illustration and a minor in Art History from University of Miami in 1995. She received a MFA in Painting from Florida International University in 2004. She lives and works in Miami, Florida.