New York artist Edward Minoff has followed an increasingly familiar path for a contemporary realist: studying with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier and Daniel Graves at the Florence Academy of Art, then securing a berth with the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. His summer exhibition there, his fourth solo at Pence, was a demonstration of what he has learned. A fine draftsman, Minoff tries his hand at a wide range of painting genres, with usually solid results. Tightly rendered still lifes display his mimetic skills. There is nothing particularly innovative about the composition of Bread, Wine and Olives (2008), but the textures of a rough stone wall, a painted wooden table and a crusty, flour-dusted loaf are beautifully captured. The more colorful Tomatoes & Mozzarella (2006) plays with rounded forms—the irregular ovoids of loaf, tomatoes and cheese have distinct surfaces—in an entertaining way. Two wine bottles, a goblet and a cruet of olive oil establish a vertical rhythm. The blond wood of the wide-planked table and a jutting cheese board break the smoky background into an intriguing shape.
Minoff’s portraits are the least interesting things on view. Cityscapes, such as Empire (2007), are more attractive, in a low-key way. The upper-story view of ordinary brick buildings, with the classic skyscraper in the distance, is comfortably urban. A bit of real country landscape, Sunset Rock, Study (2008) is even better. The low tree in the foreground barely interrupts the smooth crest of the far hills, and a shimmering stream mirrors the muted peach and lavender of the tender sky. Minoff participated last summer in Collins’s Hudson River School for Landscape, a reinvestigation of the methods and terrain of the great nineteenth-century American art movement. Minoff also teaches at Collins’s Grand Central Academy of Art.
A group of seascapes, the strongest work in the exhibition, draws on Minoff’s admiration for the nineteenth-century American master William Trost Richards. Gustave Courbet’s wave paintings are another inevitable point of reference. Minoff’s seascapes are mostly variations on a narrow formula: a shore view of waves striking the beach under a threatening sky. But the texture of the painting and the seemingly infinite compositional variations on the theme make this Minoff’s best subject. The genre has historical resonance; at the same time, it looks personal and original. Some of the paintings take advantage of a wide-screen format. Approaching Rain (12-by-26 inches, 2007) uses the width of the canvas to show the change in the weather. The left-hand side is darker, with the sky and shallow surf turning pewter grey; the lighter sky to the right is mirrored in the platinum sheen of the water. In Landfall (20-by-40 inches, 2007), Minoff uses a green-grey palette, with higher, glassier waves. The beach is wider, and a bit of fence helps shape the foreground space. Whether the artist keeps viewers at a distance or pulls them right into the water’s edge, he maintains the feeling of spatial recession. Even when the sky seems to close down and visibility is lost, we are reminded of the ocean’s limitlessness and power. Poseidon’s Fury (2008) is, at 44-by-64 inches, a remarkably compressed image of oceanic force. The artist distinguishes, through expert painthandling, the matte smokiness of the brownish-grey sky, the green-grey weight of the glassy, heaving waves and the impastoed white of the foaming surf. Jets of spray push up against the edge of the picture plane. The layers of moody color would be effective in an abstract composition; Mark Rothko might have used this palette. But Minoff shows how dynamically realism and surface pattern can work together. The sepia-stained sky hits the ocean with a strong, straight-across horizontal force, but the waves come in at a slight angle, as if they were turning slightly to show us a profile. The surf piles into the beach, filling the left corner of the frame with foam but leaving a slick of dark water on the right. There are other works in which Minoff balances illusionistic form and surface shapes successfully. Park Slope Interior (2008) takes a narrow front hall, with a gothic-window-paned front door and the underside of a staircase, as the occasion for a meditation on diagonal, curve and post-and-lintel. But the seascapes are a uniquely expansive field for experiment, and Minoff’s exploration of the genre shows him at his best. John Pence Gallery, 750 Post Street, San Francisco, California 94109. Telephone (415) 441-1138. On the web at www.johnpence.com