As summer ends, we get to extend the sensations of hot sun on skin, blazing reflections on water and the accompanying heat and indolence a little longer, thanks to this exhibit of small, intimate paintings by McWillie Chambers. Sensuous and dreamy, the pool, ocean, and sky colors of cobalt blue and cerulean are a background for the myriad hues of male flesh.
The male figure is idealized in these portraits of desire, but there’s also an unexpected tenderness. As with Thomas Eakins, Chambers is a master of capturing those moments of unguarded youth. Sure strokes of paint reveal the ease of gesture and movement. Bold marks of pure pigment add direction and depth. The use of oil paint, both dense and thick or as translucent as watercolor, create a rich palette and a shimmering summer light.
Extending beyond the picture plane, the geometry of the buildings and the lines delineating the pool in “Two Swimmers” form strong diagonals from the inside out to both left and right.
Caught in motion, each figure subtlety continues the tension of those lines of sight, just from the opposing positions of their bodies. The canvas is filled with luscious bright blues, of water, sky, shadows, and clothing, adjoining a foreground of the palest almost eye-blinding cream and mauve.
Chambers often focuses on more discerningly voyeuristic moments. “Outdoor Shower” is a study in browns and pinks highlighted with vivid areas of bright greens and dark blues. The white of the towel is seen at first glance, then the patterns of vertical shapes that become both the man and the surrounding slats of the out-door shower. Diagonal strokes of yellow green, defining grasses and trees, enliven the enclosed space while the blue eclipse of the showerhead, like a misplaced halo, hovers above.
“Wading in the Lake” is divided in half by dark foliage on the left, it’s dark amber reflection in the lake, and the area still catching the light on the right. The figure is centered, his swimsuit, the same color as the trees, melds into the background. We see him solely by the light reflected on his skin. The opaque dark side is contrasted beautifully by semitransparent, pastel blue water and mint and pink vegetation on the right, that pale palette transcribing distance. A bit of this blue comes through on his swimsuit, and touches of yellow and gold dot the shadows of the water. There is an eloquent feeling of quiet and contemplation in this remarkable space of only 7 x 5 inches.
Visible strokes of grey paint, streaked with yellow, creating a forceful diagonal of road transverses “3 Cyclists.” The rich black green background sets off this trilogy of cyclists. Chamber’s compositional sophistication comes through as the full front center figure is balanced by the other two figures, one pulling towards the left and the other towards the right. The various soft grey and blue hues are set off with dabs of red, orange, and violet. The linear treatment of the bicycles in the same color as the background brings a powerful composition of high contrast.
“Beach Stroll” finds another solitary figure seen in shadow against the glare of the sun. As he walks past the viewer, he seems made of the colors of the sky and sand that envelope him. A private moment, as mutable as passing clouds.
Chambers’ subject is foremost the figure. He explores the camaraderie and instinctive physical confidence of the athlete as well as the unconscious gracefulness of young men in reverie. These are meditations on the seductions and transience of youth and beauty, as ephemeral as the days of summer which form their backdrop.
September 8th – October 10th, 2015
Reception: September 10th, 6-8 pm
George Billis Gallery
525 West 26th Street
New York NY 10001
Article by: A. Bascove
Photography provided by the artist and the gallery