From the High Line to a Rabbit Warren, Two Painters Explore Human and Animal Nature

Apr 21, 2016 12:45AM

If you’ve ever walked along the High Line—the elevated promenade built on an abandoned railroad spur on Manhattan’s west side—you’ve probably experienced the strange thrill of peering into someone else’s apartment. It’s an unsettling feeling, something like looking at fish swimming in a bowl or an animal enclosed in a well-appointed cage.

That voyeuristic rush seeps into two painting exhibitions currently showing at the Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, New York. Granted, the rabbits of Jo Hay’s “Rabbitude” aren’t actually in cages, and no one feels bad for citizens lucky enough to live in the lush apartments and condos along the High Line (those residents make up Serge Strosberg’s “Tales of the High Line”). Nevertheless, both shows offer windows into human (and animal) lives.

Indeed, many of Strosberg’s paintings are almost disturbingly intimate. In pieces like Lust or Julia Under the Red Spotlight, subjects are vulnerable and partly disrobed; viewers might feel like they’re trespassing. Not to worry: Though the paintings are based on Strosberg’s real-life photographs, the artist used his own models on location. “I took many pictures in locations that were sometimes adventurous,” he has said.

The Afterparty pictures a young woman relaxing on a balcony—a scene you’ll likely glimpse on a cool summer night in New York or any other city. Some of Strosberg’s paintings, like Hopper Highline or The IAC Building, are less personal and more architectural. Viewed together, the paintings capture the grit and glamour of the High Line, “a surrealist place,” Strosberg has said, “where you have plants, glass, reflections, and silence from traffic in a city where it is hard to find oxygen. To me, the High Line is a breath of oxygen and almost a fantasy area.”

Hay, meanwhile, has traditionally focused on human subjects as well, so “Rabbitude” signifies something of a departure for the British figurative painter. Still, her lush, large-scale rabbit portraits could be seen as an extension of her ongoing exploration of sexuality, gender, and identity. After all, each subject seems to have its own personality: Blue Jean and Blackstar are distinct from, say, The Thin White Duke (all 2016; and yes, each rabbit seems to have a David Bowie–inspired name).

Hay’s recent paintings draw a parallel between human and animal consciousness. “I relate to their alert, edgy energy,” she has said, “and the constant vigilance required to always remain nimble enough to get in and out of fluctuating situations.” Atop the High Line, those same edgy energies and fluctuating situations are available in ample supply.

—Bridget Gleeson

Tales of the High Line” and “Rabbitude” are on view at the Lionheart Gallery, Pound Ridge, New York, Mar 20–May 1, 2016.

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