Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quick Sketching at Tom Robinson Studio and Palette and Chisel

Tom Robinson Studio/Gallery: “Drawing Attention” through June 26
Palette and Chisel Gallery: “Summer Suite” through June 20

(piece shown: Peggy Sanders)

Unless they’re attributed to famous artists, quick sketch life-drawings have negligible cash value. Nudes have always been problematic for American collectors, and quick-sketches do not demonstrate the excruciating detail that appeals to both neo and paleo academics. So you will hardly ever find quick sketches in the kind of galleries that have to pay big rent. And yet, they can present not only a spontaneous, thrilling virtuosity and beauty, but also a way of looking at people that characterizes both the artist and a specific time and place. And what looks more interesting to the human mind than the face, flesh, and posture of other humans?

Of course, the quickest way to get make some kind of image is to click the shutter of a camera. Only a few people have the time and patience to develop the skill of composing so quickly, while controlling a spatial illusion with ink or chalk on paper, especially now, when that ability is no longer demanded by art schools. But, incredibly enough, some people do persist with this arcane European practice, and a few even get very good at it, as demonstrated by two shows running concurrently in local studio/galleries.

The Tom Robinson show is especially interesting because of the wall of drawings done by Chuck Walker, a leading Chicago figuralist whose next show will be at the Linda Warren Gallery next Autumn. Walker stands out because his figures don’t – that is, he draws the space both inside and outside the contours of the body. And he always seems to be telling some kind of gritty story about the yearning of full, ripe, and sensual young women. While the work of Peggy Sanders stands out in the Palette and Chisel show for its dignity, strength and quiet grace. And there are several other good artists in both shows, all of whom rise above that cartoonish quality that has defined narrative visual art in Chicago for many decades.

What’s missing, though, is the male nude. Whatever happened to the virtues of masculinity? And where are the young artists? None of the artists in either show are under 30, and most of them are 20 years older than that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tom Parish at Gruen Galleries

25 years ago Tom Parish discovered Venice (Italy) and realized that the real world could be more fascinating than his imagination. And so this Surrealist painter became a realist, taking photographs in the ancient city for a month each year ever since, and then traveling back to Detroit to realize his painterly visions. Back in 1933, the year he was born, Chicago galleries were a likely place to find paintings on this subject, because. Venice epitomizes romance and old world culture. But don’t go to this exhibit expecting to see reflections of gondolas and magnificent palazzi shimmering on the sun-drenched lagoon. (like Monet’s “Palazzo Dario” now showing in the Art Institute) There still is plenty of atmosphere, but it’s more like the gritty ambience of a modern Euro-crime television drama. A bit off-kilter, because with everything sinking, there’s no longer any such thing as a true, vertical line in Venetian architecture And these paintings are so large (6’ to 8’) and the space so deep, the viewer is immersed in this sometimes dark, always crumbling, illusive, watery world rather than kept at a proper, dry, and comfortable distance. . Happily, the second floor of Gruen Galleries is just the right space to see a dozen of these large paintings, which become like windows looking down on the canals. You can feel the dampness and almost smell the gasoline fumes from the outboard motors. Sorry, no gondolas. And no people either, since this is a very private, personal vision that follows the program of surrealist cityscapes that Parish was painting back in 1980. You won’t find the civic pride of Gentile Bellini, the architectural vistas of Canaletto, the teeming urban life of Guardi , the spacious, Romantic drama of JMW Turner, or the social vignettes of Singer Sargent. But what you will find is a sharp sense of time and place, and a very useful metaphor for growing old and lonely with dignity and grace.