Since it was first popularized in the Middle Ages, oil painting has been regarded as especially luxurious, enchanting, and capable of capturing the sensuous qualities of skin. What better medium is there for revealing a body’s desirability? Richard J Demato Fine Arts shows this age-old esteem to be worth all its centuries of merit with “EDGE OF TEMPTATION,” a show of works by 16 painters.
Wang Xiaobo’s portraits of young couples are naturalistic, but experiment with color and body language to convey his subjects’ complex emotions. In his photorealistic pictures, Wang crops the top and bottom off of his sitters, depicting them from below the eyes to the hip or knee, and weaves skeins of color over the picture plane. These paintings resemble works by Lucian Freud, where the relationship between a pair of sitters is suggested, but remains ambiguous.
Pamela Wilson’s visually and erotically charged portraits borrow from traditional French realists, such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau, with luminous surfaces and solitary female protagonists. Her 2014 painting, Did the Harebell Loose Her Girdle, is based on a poem by Emily Dickinson. Wilson’s model stands pensively in a wallpapered room, the atmospheric light keenly attended to. She is nude except for a feathered headdress and translucent crinoline dress. Dickinson’s poem questioned the morality of sexual liaisons, and Wilson’s desirable subject may be weighing the same concern.
Katie O’Hagan and Adrienne Stein appropriate cultural icons in their paintings. O’Hagan’s Figment shows a girl wearing ruby slippers sitting in a rustic doorway; her imploring gaze hopes for adventure or fantasy. O’Hagan and Stein’s use of rich symbols such as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, or spiders, bouquets, and skulls in their other paintings, resembles strategies used by René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. Stein describes her symbols as, “mythic imagination and elements that are at once personal and universal.” As with those Surrealists, both artists suggest magic is everywhere, if only we’re receptive to its signs.
All of these painters at Richard J Demato Fine Arts experiment with the longstanding conventions of figuration. Their contemporary approach both embraces and upends the influence of photography by making images that imitate its precision—enhanced by lush painterly surfaces and heightened by the imaginative liberties the artists take with their subjects.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory