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.

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