Forum Gallery presents At First Blush, an exhibition of paintings and drawings, each of which is more than it first seems. These provocative works invite the viewer to create their own story and frame of reference for the subject the artist depicts. Something is happening, has just happened or is anticipated in every work, but that something is not explicit, it is up to us to define.
Raphael Soyer’s Nude with Self-Portrait, 1961, the earliest work in the show, is about an artist and his model, but there’s more to it than just the fact he’s painting her; while Alyssa Monks’ Be Perfectly Still and Selective Perception, two of the most recent, both from 2021, exhibit psychologically charged expressions of the female experience. William Beckman’s Marseille (Bathers), 2017-23, imagines a relationship between two women that’s undefined while Steven Assael’s Susan with Dog, 1994, suggests a very different kind of relationship. Two women are again the subject of Philip Pearlstein’s masterful Two Models with Bedouin Rug, 1987; while Alan Feltus shows another, intimately personal, relationship in The Best of Times, 2007. These fully human, highly charged works may not have the same meaning to any two viewers, but everyone will bring their background, dreams and thoughts to each work.
The clarity of Guillermo Munoz Vera’s Zara, 2017, in which a shopper shops while we observe from a distance, is matched by the opacity of Paul Fenniak’s Man with Collapsible Umbrella, 2012-13; and Offshore, 2011, that set scenes of dream-like mystery. Individual figures in With the Stones, 1999, one of Richard Maury’s most masterly paintings, and Woman on Red Background, 1967-68, by Gregory Gillespie, are shown in a context that compels imagination and presents intrigue.
Arresting for the unapologetic directness of their subjects are Susan Hauptman’s Self-Portrait (La Perla #1), 2006; Kent Bellow’s Megan: October 1995, 1995; Bill Vuksanovich’s, Woman with a Scar, 2001; and Nelson Shanks’ Grace, 1996; while ambiguity is Clio Newton’s subject in Harper, 2019; and Odd Nerdrum’s in Early Morning, n.d.. Each work cries out for us to supply our personal narrative, a story we think of when we see the work.
Nerdrum’s horizon as it manifests in recent works… is the meeting place of the eternal and the temporal, the infinite and finite, the sacred and the profane. It is the point of his amalgamation of light and dark, substance and void. It is an agent of connection between the knowable and the unknowable. Nerdrum’s figures can empirically perceive nothing that is beyond the horizon, yet for them the skyline has a powerful significance in that it both conceals and reveals the great truths beyond.
_Matthew Ballou, Image, 2006
Soyer loved women, whom he painted as studio nudes, dancers, subway riders, and shop girls. The images are uniformly sympathetic, vaguely sexual, and yet always proper. Many owe a debt to Degas, and the delicate, frothy brushstrokes have something in common with Fragonard.
_Gerard Haggerty, ARTnews, Summer 2005
I think I try to get their character and their habits, you know. The way they sit and the way they act. Together yet disconnected… I paint myself in these pictures as if I were a witness. I like everything about human beings. They’re the most interesting animals.
_Raphael Soyer, “Portrait of the realist at 77” by Jerry Tallmer, The New York Post, October 1997
The drawings are fictional; portraits of women seamlessly blended into bodies of men. My intent is to create a naturalistic impression, reminiscent of the Renaissance aesthetic of masculine femininity, using the same drawing technique in the face and body to blur otherwise divergent male and female traits. I seek to invite a curiosity about the identities I imagine, whom my subjects are and how to interpret their form. I am deeply curious about the particulars of a face, the gesture of a body and the psychological world these details can suggest. Through this fictional patchwork of specific traits, I endeavor to discover universal truths about the significance and triviality of gender.
The nudes have a sculptural quality that seems to emerge from a textured ground much like a Michelangelo polished form being carved and released from rough stone. Each of the figures is an icon for the human and mortal, not an object stripped of its clothing for the eyes of a voyeur.
_Townsend Wolfe, "Drawing the Figure: Kent Bellows & William Beckman," Forum Gallery, 1998
Monks’ figures are caught in moments of visceral and even disturbing rawness. In the title of the piece, "Be Perfectly Still," a young woman sinks into a pool of clear slime. Or is she emerging? Her cupid lips suggest youthful sexuality. The painting begs a narrative and yet the artist offers no concrete storyline. The young woman could be drowning in her tears – her eyes and nose seem reddened. Or perhaps she is being born, going from child to woman, her gaze filled with a look of lost innocence.
_Meg Daly, “More than Skin Deep,” American Art Collector, November 2022
[Susan Hauptman's] work does not pretend to be about anything more than her own constructed identities. Therein lies the poison. Her imagery repeats without demur, a reigning lie of contemporary culture: We can make ourselves up as we please. The fetishized Self is hollow, drained... of indwelling reality. The subject has vacated its own skin.
_Maureen Mullarkey, "Susan Hauptman: Drawings," The New York Sun, December 2006
The charged atmosphere of dealing daily with subjects… shifting feelings, expressing, and seemingly endless hours spent working with the surface, changing the image, bringing it up, realizing it fully. These are Beckman’s figure paintings… They present lone figures, but never figures who are lonely, for they are in each case assertive, confident, in control of the spaces they occupy. Even in pairs, their independence eclipses the bonds between them, for they are allowed no idle preoccupations, no gestures, no narrative context to distract from their being of all before us.
_Carl Belz, "The Art of William Beckman and Gregory Gillespie," William Beckman and Gregory Gillespie, Rose Art Museum, August 1984
I have many colleagues who paint imagined scenes, but I am interested artistically only in here and now. The fact that I live in this out-of-the-ordinary house in this
out-of-the-ordinary town, I am sure obscures the present-day reality which is my aim in my work. I would like to feel that this quotidian and thus, I hope, eternal quality can easily be perceived.
Uncertain as to their meanings, we can be assured that both artist and paintings are sealed as visual letters with “no return” postage. At his bare essence, and perhaps his most inscrutable self, he reduces the noble tradition of figurative and representational art to a visible sound produced not by paintbrush but from the bow of his violin. It is a barely audible, lingering chord – of places, persons and objects once seen but now only surviving in his pictorial imagination. Richard Maury’s life and art return us to [a] magical realm.
_Philip Eliasoph, "Letter from Florence: The Art of Richard Maury," American Arts Quarterly, Winter 1997
It is invariably quiet paintings and sculptures that interest me most...I am watching the whole surface of the painting as I paint, everything moving and adjusting to everything else there. That's my manner of composing. Intuitive and personal. I think of what I do as choreographing. And its not only the figures that are choreographed, that works with every form, with every space between forms. Gesture is part of the way I understand figures and also objects and even fragments of things where overlapping occurs. And I know that I'm painting unreality, not realism so much as my own world. Most painters do that. Or perhaps I can say all mature artists create their own reality that is quite unlike the world around them, and unlike that of any other painter.