Klaudia Marr Gallery
A number of galleries across the United States provide showcases for the ongoing revival in representational painting. Klaudia Marr Gallery in Santa Fe presented its eleventh Annual Realism Invitational this fall, with over thirty artists employing a variety of mediums and styles. One of the traditional components of realism is illusionistic space: we know we are looking at a flat surface but willingly accept the fiction that the canvas is a window into a three-dimensional world. In Magic Act Ron Kostoff calls attention to the idea of the painter as illusionist by invoking another meaning of the word, a synonym for stage magician. A purple blossom floats in mid-air above an ivory-colored vase, which casts convincing shadows on a shelf and wall. In a further feat of prestidigitation, this vignette is glimpsed through an arched mat with a ragged bottom edge, jolting us back into the reality of two dimensions.
Trompe l’oeil is a subgenre of realism enjoying a vogue at the moment. Gregory West’s tiny Wine and Dine (6 inches square) focused on the tactile pleasures of crumbing cork and crackers, objects framed with old master elegance on their black, specimen-board background. The best portrait in the show is Aristides Ruiz’s acrylic Brooks. Ruiz uses a tight close-up to give us a sense of intimacy, although the subject’s downcast eyes suggest the reticence of a private person. The texture of the amber-toned skin is extraordinary, and the young man’s long, dark hair and earrings suggest a bohemian prophet. This is an unusual strategy for a portrait. The face nearly fills the frame, but the veiling of Brooks’s gaze and the unusual angle of approach respect the mystery of individuality. Eric Zener uses a photorealist approach for his swimming pool pictures. The swimmer’ bodies in Quiet Escape and Staying Afloat are pretexts for studies in the way light and water behave, distorting perspective, looking an almost-opaque blue at one moment, transparent at another.
Another connoisseur of the color blue and the effects of light is Steve Smulka, featuered in the Realism Invitational and the subject of his own exhibition at Klaudia Marr December 17, 2004–January 17, 2005. Like Giorgio Morandi or William Bailey, Smulka draws on the geometric shapes of simple household objects as raw materials for surprisingly complex compositions. While Morandi and Bailey emphasize the architecture of tabletop arrangements, however, Smulka is mesmerized by transparency and reflection. One of his favorite objects is the old-fashioned glass Ball jar, its stumpy shape transfigured by the interplay of light. In Vertigo Smulka looks down on a row of three jars, a blue one flanked by two clear ones, on a rumpled cloth; from this giant’s perspective the pools of light are indeed dizzying. In The Good Old Days an assortment of old glass bottles—some cobalt blue, some clear—cast multifaceted lights and colored shadows on each other in a chastely psychedelic way. For all their humility, they remind us of the iconography of the Virgin Mary, whose Annunciation stage set usually included a clear vessel as an emblem of pure conception, the miracle of light passing through glass without breaking it. Smulka also works with paradox; his empty bottles and jars overflow with the vitality of light. His other still lifes explore variations on particular themes. Winter Solstice is a study in white: white roses, pale shells, the transparency of a clear glass pitcher playing off the opaque ceramic glass of another vessel. All the surfaces are seductively smooth and curvy. Blue Pitcher takes a step toward bolder color. The dramatis personae of this composition include the eponymous vessel in chipped enamel, its shorter, white ceramic companion, sunflowers and artichokes. In his most recent work, Smulka turns to the human figure, depicting enigmatic women wrapped in drapery. Space is largely undefined, creating a spell of timelessness. Surroundings may be sparse—a window in Oracle, a chair and the small table supporting The White Pitcher. Or the whole drama may be concentrated on the incandescence of light seen through cloth, as in Inner Light, which suggests the rapt introspection of a Georges de La Tour Magdalene. The artists in the Invitational and Smulka, in this in-depth presentation, are aware of tradition, but immediate enjoyment is paramount. Pleasure in craft is rooted in responsiveness to the visual and emotional intensity of individual experience. Klaudia Marr Gallery, 668 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Telephone (505) 988-2100. On the web at www.klaudiamarrgallery.com