Scott Fraser is a still-life painter of remarkable technical prowess. But, as a November exhibition of new work at J. Cacciola Gallery in New York City demonstrated, he can also be a visual comedian. Study in White seems to exist for the pure pleasure of arranging shapes and surfaces in aesthetically pleasing ways. Curved cups with fluting reminiscent of a classical column are laid out along the straight edge of a table. The distressed matte whitewash of the furniture contrasts with the soft sheen of ceramic. The brownish background throws the objects into relief like a cameo, in a still life as elegant as one by William Bailey. Shiny Things uses the same table and background, but the star is an old-fashioned dark metal scale, which weighs a bunch of Hersey’s kisses against the balloon of a popcorn shaker. The depiction of the silvery foil is particularly deft. The level of incongruity mounts in a series of natural history specimens displayed like hors d’oeuvres in Cracker Frog, Cracker Fish and Cracker Toad.
Fraser pushes the surrealism in still lifes that defy not only logic but gravity. Time Piece II is almost neoclassical in its orderly symmetry. A squat obelisk of a metronome is placed dead center, with an egg floating above it in inky darkness, portentous with cosmic meaning. But how do we explain the pearly fish skeletons hovering on either side of the egg? Knowing that Fraser’s wife is a musician gives some resonance to the metronome, one of his favorite props. Yet one detail is even more telling. A string and push-pins sketch out half a triangle, an adumbration of sacred geometry. This makeshift pulley also arrests the mechanism’s tick-tock movement, making it a “still” life indeed. Some of Fraser’s compositions become whimsical. Into the Blue lines up three little cardboard shacks against an aquarium-blue background. The skeleton fish return, accompanied by lines of goldfish crackers. The Pop dimension is held in clever suspension against the macabre touch of the skeletal fish in this illusionistically convincing yet completely imaginary space. Not all the works pull off this playfulness in a rewarding way. In couple of narrow verticals in oil-on-copper, Bubble Gum and Balancing Bee, a fuzzy bee with translucent wings perches on a cocktail-olive skewer against vibrantly colored backgrounds—puzzling but not particularly interesting. And images of M&M candies lack the emblematic mystery that characterizes his more complex paintings. He sometimes puts together art historical pastiches—a snapshot of a painting of Francis Bacon, a decapitated Holbein with the famous anamorphic skull floating above—both images held by a white hand too creased to be marble. The flatness doesn’t work, because he seems to be denying the mimetic prestidigitation that underlines his craft. Better and more characteristic paintings, such as Anvil Kisses, have solidity as well as wit. The real weight of that curvy, chipped-enamel red anvil with its chorus line of foil-wrapped candies makes the humorous lightness of the conceit ring true. J. Cacciola Gallery, 531 West 25th Street, New York, New York 10001. Telephone (212) 462-4646. On the web at www.jcacciolagallery.com