California artist Jeremy Lipking (b. 1975) presented his third solo show at Arcadia Gallery in New York City this summer. The influence of his heroes—the American John Singer Sargent, the Spaniard Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, the Swede Anders Zora, the Frenchman Jules Bastien-Lepage—is evident in the elegant draftsmanship and spirited paint-handling of this young artist. In fact, while not distractingly anachronistic, Lipking’s paintings could pass for works from the nineteenth century. His models, when clothed, often carry the glamour of an earlier era, with chignons and long skirts, shawls and cloche hats. At their best, the women he depicts have a timeless quality. The artist keeps props to a minimum, but an elegant Chinese chair with an ox-bow back makes an effective frame for sitters such as the demurely dressed young woman in Sara. Nude in Chinese Chair (2005) demonstrates the artist’s clarity of line and silky way with flesh. The chair’s open, elegant architecture frames the Ingres-like back of the model. Lipking finds the back view intriguing. He comments: “when the figure’s face is visible, it is the first thing you will look at….You will immediately try to decide the mood of the person and their ‘type.’ Your reaction…can make the piece more about the person and less about the overall feeling or mood of the painting….part of the attraction to the back view is the unknowable, but also creating a mood with light, shapes and composition.” The back view of a figure, often looking out over a mountain abyss or the ocean is a popular compositional strategy to signal introspection. Lipking has used this device before, in October Sunset (2002) and Standing on the Shore (2004), where a barefoot girl in a white nightgown hovers at the edge of the surf. There is another aesthetic implicitly at work, the Japanese print tradition and its fascination with the eroticism of the nape of the neck. Lipking taps into this in his depiction of a kimono-clad model, Antique Chair (2003). But art historical references aside, these compositions work well in purely formal terms.
Lipking is adept at managing the transition between tight rendering and looser brushwork within a composition, as in the 2006 oil Girl in Profile, where the planes of the face are articulated with cameo crispness while the background and the model’s brown-gold Chinese-collared jacket dissolve into dappled paint. He employs a similar strategy in his charcoal drawings, selectively exploiting the velvety smudginess of the medium. In Danielle (2006) he frames the precisely observed girl’s face with rich, scribbled masses of piled up, slightly untidy hair and a fur collar. Some of his sketchier images, however, while skillful, lack the mystery and quietly absorbing attention that characterize his best work, where the model’s interior life—even as she turns away from us—adds gravitas. November (2004) evokes an introspective mood by juxtaposing a three-quarter figure of a pale girl in a dark coat with a stand of sinuous birch trees. Here, as in many of his best works, light—almost tactile on the girl’s face and the white bark of the trees—is crucial. Lipking likes natural light and frequently paints outdoors, even occasionally for nudes, making photographs and plein-air oil sketches as records of color and value, which lay the groundwork for the finished art.
One of the exhibited works, French Woodcarver (2005), represents a departure from Lipking’s usual subject matter. Painted last summer in the French town of Angles, this interior shows a man hunched over a craft-table in the foreground, but the composition is dominated by a pair of arched windows. As in other Lipking paintings, the windows are luminous screens rather than openings onto the outside world; they light the figure and provide an almost abstract backdrop. Here, the figure is surrounded and nearly upstaged by piles of wood scraps, and the air seems thick with dust. It’s an interesting experiment, if not as assured in execution as some of his more familiar subjects.
Born in Santa Monica and largely self-taught, Lipking was encouraged by his father, an advertising designer, children’s book illustrator and landscape painter. He studied for a year at the California Art Institute and was asked to join the faculty. In 2001 he won the Artists Choice Gold Medal Award at the California Art Club’s annual exhibition; he quickly established himself as an important young artist. In addition to exhibiting in California, Arizona and New York, he has been included in the Arnot Museum’s “Re-presenting Representation” exhibitions. Barely thirty, Lipking paints with a natural virtuosity, and it will be interesting to see how his work develops. He has already found a personal style, without insisting on the “contemporary” aspect of the contemporary realist movement. Instead, he prizes what he calls “that ambiguous timeless quality, where nothing in the painting is specific enough to reference a particular time or place.” Arcadia Gallery, 51 Greene Street, New York, New York 10013. Telephone (212) 965–1387. On the Web at www.arcadiafinearts.com