“New Faces,” a group show of four young representational painters, was a late summer offering at Forum Gallery in New York City. The show had a distinctly international flavor, and the artists were very different stylistically. All seemed engaged in the social, political and psychological undercurrents of today’s society, in contrast to contemporary realists working deliberately in the old master tradition. Born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1975 and educated at the University of Minnesota, Megan Rye also attended the Skowhegan School in Maine. Her paintings are mostly based on photographs her brother Ryan, a U.S. Marine, took during his deployment in Iraq. Fallujah to Abu Ghraibe, RRN 2 (2006) is a tight-shot of the interior of a military vehicle. The camouflage of the soldier, seen only from the back, and the pattern of sun and shadow create a disorienting Pop Art effect. Iraqui Store, RRN1 (2006) has an almost candy-colored palette that makes the visual confusion less compelling as a metaphor for danger and uncertainty. Rita Natarova was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1980 and immigrated to the United States in her early teens. She earned her MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and studied the art of Piero della Francesca and Masaccio in Italy on a Fulbright grant. Her work has an attractive sketchiness that suggests the informal work of John Singer Sargent, as in Xeste 3 (2006), a timeless figure of a woman who seems to be disappearing into a frescoed wall, and the shrewdly titled Venetian Painting (2006). The subject of Venetian Painting is an angry driver, face and hands framed by the curve of a car window, but this edgy modern subject is given beauty by the play of the warm shadows, blurring the face and one hand, against the clarity of the sunlit hand nearest the viewer. Israeli Amnon David Ar (b. 1973) is perhaps the most traditional of the four artists here. A monochromatic sketch, Street View (2006), is less interesting than his color paintings, which juxtapose warm and cool tonalities in a lively way. Untitled (2005), depicting a blue scooter on a dappled-rose floor, and a no-nonsense Self-Portrait (2005–06) are both characterized by loose, painterly brushwork. The youngest artist in the exhibition, Tal Rozen (born 1984 in Massachusetts), is also the most conceptual. The Daughters (2005) is an Alice-in-Wonderland riff on Sargent’s celebrated painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), with Rozen’s figures appearing both upside-down and right-side-up, superimposed in various degrees of resolution. The result suggests digital manipulation while remaining firmly rooted in gestural painting. As a commentary on the original, Rozen’s painting raises art historical specters as disturbing as the ghostly forms of the more translucent of the children. But Sargent’s painting—with its own evocation of Velázquez and enough psychology to spur Henry James to praise it—remains the more fascinating work, by far. Still, it is interesting to see young artists confront the burden of the past in fresh ways. Rozen graduated from Wesleyan University and studied at the Tyler School of Art in Rome.
This fall Forum is showing recent paintings by Raymond Han, best known for his tight rendering of figures and objects against pearly, featureless backdrops. Han’s cool, neoclassical approach is evident in Awakening Spring (2006), with three barefoot modern nymphs deployed in a frieze across a neutral space, with only a few cut flowers as attributes of the season. A clutch of still lifes features white ceramic vessels that would not be out of place in a Robert Adam drawingroom, with the addition of intriguing elements such as flowers, photographs and art reproductions. The witty Still Life with Virginia Woolf and Fiona Shaw (2006), for all its references to the sister arts of literature and theater, is essentially an investigation of white shapes. More color appears in Mixed Bouquet with Bronze Serpent (2006), but the standout work in the show is Studio Still Life #4 (2006). The still-life elements—a white classical-style amphora and a beige mortar, backed by a lavender square of board—are pushed to the bottom of the composition. More than three-quarters of the space is devoted to the irregular sheet of vermillion-red paper tacked to the taupe wall, with an extra curl taped to the larger sheet. The red sheet is illusionistically rendered, with shadows along the ragged right-hand edge, but the image also works as a first-rate abstract composition. Skillful artists who have developed a signature formula are often wary of striking out in new directions. This exciting foray into color field suggests Han may be embarking on a new phase. This is a terrific picture. “Raymond Han: Recent Paintings” continues through October 21, 2006, at Forum Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, New York, New York 10151. Telephone: (212) 355–4545. On the Web at www.forumgallery.com