Taking pleasure in examining the spaces we most often inhabit prompted Robert Hughes to once refer to the works of Matisse as the “great indoors”. A similar theme, if not sentiment, is currently on display at Van Der Plas Gallery with “Interior Conversation,” a selection of work from five painters where warming light sources inhabit occasionally not-so-easy-going scenes of domesticity as well as a few outdoorsy depictions. The canvases range from bordering on the completely abstract to exactingly figurative.
In the category of not-so-easy-going would first be Nancy Grimes’ picture, “Growing Up” as well as the work by Fedele Spadafora, “The Conversation”. Everything in the Grimes living room interior is expertly modeled without a sense of the artist’s hand – the edges of paint rounded smooth and exacting as light falls in boxes over rectilinear furniture. The figures occupying this slightly nightmarish space appear doll-like and hewn from wood. Grimes’ handling and palette are velvet smooth and chocolate-rich respectively. By contrast Spadafora’s canvas is brushier and gives a sense of painterly editing as the limbs of trees appear to have been delineated from a dry brush painting technique. The work is rendered sparingly, and certainly it’s the seated figures in electric-blue that direct the viewer’s gaze. Perhaps the color choice was meant to relay the chill of winter, but it’s the very intensity of the blue that makes the picture at once icy and warm.
Carefully placing their figures amidst stylized backgrounds are Vincent Zambrano and KK Kozik. Zambrano holds a degree in fine arts as well as receiving a degree in film directing from the School of Visual Arts. One might reason that such training is evident in his canvas, “The Allegory of Painting,” where a nude female sits expressionless as she regards the painter capturing her likeness. The sitter is done in careful, feathery brush work against a rigid and graphically defined background, entirely devoid of shadow and (quite possibly) perspective as relative to the subject. With his current show at the Brooklyn Museum and subway-adorning advertisement, it’s tempting to draw comparisons to Kehinde Wiley’s slickly modeled figures and immersive patterns. But unlike Wiley’s paintings where the background interacts and overlaps the figures, Zambrano’s study is disorienting in its duality and the effect is more Photoshop than painterly.
Atmospheric lighting and theatrical staging are also present in the work of KK Kozik and none more so than her inviting exterior view of a formal party in the grandly sized, “Some Enchanted Evening,” where many of the figures and foliage are outlined in a definitive black. Tuxedoes and lighted street lamps, not to mention the sensation of being able to hear music, give the work a Gatsby-party chic. Thankfully, however, the discursive black outlines are absent Kozik’s figures in “The Heat” where armed police ascend stairs to a contemplative and casual man holding a cigarette. We see the scene unfold from the exterior with the building’s windows giving the work a multi paneled format. Kozik’s strongest contribution is “Signal” a quiet scene of a solitary lava lamp bubbling green and beacon-like in a window with the added modern element of an orange extension cord. It’s a wry and winking picture.
Sitting comfortably amidst painterly abstraction and representation is Judith Simonian who is represented in the show with eight paintings spanning five years. “Fine Asian Atmosphere” is a large-scale work from 2008 where a saccharin-colored pastoral scene is placed atop a much abbreviated depiction of a pool of water. Curiously, a lamp occupies the foreground of the work which contains the painter’s penchant for surrealism and, with a diagonal slice descending from the lamp’s shade, Simonian’s interest in fractured space. The smaller works seem to suggest greater intimacy in the subject and perhaps a greater confidence. Whether real or imagined by the artist (or perhaps both) these are places you have actually been, have occupied and have memories from: the cool morning light of a messy living room or a brightly adorned wedding ceremony with dark recesses of brown, shadowy architecture. Simonian’s best pictures are absent painterly drips but combine a misty and faded, bleed-out of thinned paint comingling with heavier applications where color and efficient mark-making take precedence over recognizable imagery. One such painting, “Peach Room” depicts a one-point perspective interior rendered with unfussy precision. This is achieved, in many of the works, with washes of paint, delicate stabs of the brush and slashes of color that denote everything from a table’s contents to books on a shelf, or even people. Such elements communicate an emotional depth; a certain processing of experience and the places such experiences register, which, for the viewer, can be a satisfying recognition of something glimpsed in memory.
“Interior Conversation” is on view now until April 26th at Van Der Plas Gallery.
Van Der Plas Gallery
156 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
212. 227. 8983
Wednesday – Sunday 12:00pm – 6:00pm
Monday and Tuesday by appointment
Between Stanton and Rivington Streets
Closest subway F train 2 Avenue / Houston Street • Delancey Street / Essex Street
Article by Zach Eichelberger
Photos by Jose Patiño