The exhibition features the work of 27 contemporary artists, all realist painters—or, perhaps more precisely, painters who are working on the margins of realism—abstracting familiar imagery in some way, often to extraordinary or even bizarre results. Take Wendelin Wohlgemuth, a German-American artist whose dark oils look to be based on antique photographs of human faces. In the case of Untitled I (2015), the composition brings to mind that most banal sort of photograph: one used for a photo ID, as on a passport. But the image is distorted, drawn over, as if he’s taken scissors and paint to an actual photograph. In Free Will (2015), the details of one face are entirely removed, as if rubbed off with an eraser. The effect is disorienting and ominous, even haunting, triggering questions about identity and records of the past.
And then there’s Meghan Howland, a painter whose compositions seem more conventionally realistic—until you approach the canvas and look at the works more closely. Though her subjects are modern in style, and rendered in relaxed natural poses, these pieces aren’t straightforward portraiture. Her figures are overlaid, delicately and intriguingly, with other images from the natural world. Note the cloudscape seemingly projected onto a man’s bare back in Okay (2015), the dreamy mountains and lakes shrouding the contemplative central figure of Loran (2015), and—in a work that mirrors Flaubert’s statement about backgrounds and foregrounds—the evocative Sterling (2015), with its juxtaposition of a realistic urban setting and a dramatic mountainous landscape.
Howland’s works, in particular—in which the subjects seem to be physically located in one place and perhaps dreaming of another—speak to that fragile and often indefinable line between real and abstract, the body and the mind, the concrete and the intangible. These are themes picked up by many of the other artists on view in “Edge of Realism.” Through a variety of techniques, including manipulating light and perspective, and combining seemingly disparate images, they comprise a group show that pushes realism to its very edge.
“Edge of Realism” is on view at Abend Gallery, Denver, Aug. 7–28, 2015.