Sabin Howard, Javier Marín

Sabin Howard, Fragment of Hermes, 2005, Courtesy Evoke Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico“Re-Presenting the Nude,” on view during July at Evoke Contemporary in Santa Fe, offered a lively overview of realist approaches to a perennial genre. The exhibition, curated by John O’Hern, included sculpture and drawings as well as paintings. O’Hern emphasized the content always implicit in the figure: “The body and its senses are our tools for experiencing the world and each other. The ineffable energy that animates the body opens up worlds within and without.” Some artists suggest narrative possibilities or confront the social attitudes, especially about eroticism and gender, that the nude seems to raise. Others aspire to a classical ideal. But even among artists who lean toward an academic style, there is considerable variety. Patricia Watwood’s Gemini coolly explores the formal dynamic of the two serene models, their soft skin tones balanced by the muted palette in a still life of yellow tulips, green apples and a blue vase. Wade Reynolds takes the nude in a much edgier direction. Watwood’s figures sit primly erect on their blue-and-white-draped bench. The model in Reynolds’s Figure with Standing Screen and Comforter (1991) slouches in a narrow chair, hair covering her eyes. Side lighting picks out the sharp angles of wrist, elbow and hip, while the way she props up one foreshortened foot on the cot beside her is reminiscent of Philip Pearlstein’s splayed bodies.

Two artists who are adept at melding the classical and the contemporary were well represented at Evoke. Steven Assael is a superb draftsman who uses his formidable rendering skills to unlock secrets of character. His pencil drawing Segu (2006) is technically on the level of an old master sheet. The model’s Pre-Raphaelite mane of crinkly hair frames a strong but sensitive face, and the way she throws her weight forward on her slender hands brings the body to life, even though all Assael shows us is face, arms and a sliver of upper back. Bernardo Torrens works from photographs for his acrylic-onwood paintings, but his meticulously finished images also pay homage, in their mostly monochromatic palette, to the grisaille of medieval artists. His models have strong features as well as beauty, making an argument for balancing realism and idealism, as in the profile bust-length study Jesi I (2008) and the half-figure Liz II (2008).

Postmodern provocation puts in an appearance in a number of paintings. Kent Williams’s Blond Natalia with Studio Arrangement (2010) presents contorted male and female nudes amid dangling electrical cords and paint cans. A sense of estrangement hovers over the scene, but the most interesting aspect of the work is its vibrantly messy paint-handling; the man’s shoulder semi-dissolves into the splatters that carve out shapes of wall, window and floor. Lee Price’s tighter Cocoa Puffs (2009), on the other hand, takes a bird’s eye view of a dark-haired girl eating cereal in a bathtub, her tidy form neatly framed by the white porcelain oval. The geometry is underlined by the floor tile. Only the bright, graphically colorful cereal boxes spilling out their contents suggest any modicum of chaos.

The exhibition featured a good selection of sculpture, including Roxanne Swenttzell’s neo-Gauguin-style figure and rough and glazed ceramics by, respectively, James Tyler and Christyl Boger. But the most exciting work was by Sabin Howard and Javier Marín, who both use bronze to excellent, if very different effect. Howard evokes the classical nude in Fragment of Hermes (2005) and Armor (2004). The muscular build and personality of his models—he chooses them carefully and describes the process as collaborative—moves his sculptures toward Roman realism rather than Greek idealism. The Mexican sculptor Marín comes from another tradition, drawing on pre-Columbian deities and contemporary art trends for expressionist, surface-scarred and intensely moving works such as Torso de Mujero (2008). Among the other artists participating in this first-rate and thought-provoking exhibition were Michael Bergt, Michael Leonard, Robert Liberace, D aniel Sprick and Will Wilson. Evoke Contemporary, 120 Lincoln Ave, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Telephone (505) 995-9902. On the web at www.EvokeContemporary.com

American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2010, Volume 27, Number 4