Figurative Harmony in Gallery 1261’s "Group X-2"

Artist Katherine Stone calls on Goethe to illuminate the theme of her paintings: “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Stone is one of several artists included in Gallery 1261’s group show, “Group X-2,” an exhibition comprised entirely of paintings, spanning a variety of techniques, styles, and themes. Despite the wide range on display, the compositions resonate harmoniously together; realism and romanticism are echoed throughout, as is a dedication to time-honored painting styles.

Vincent Xeus’ portrait paintings seem to come from another time and place. Isabelle’s Window (2014) shows the side profile of an airy, reflective young woman bathed in light. It is a mysterious, haunting portrait, echoing the traditions of painters like Rembrandt and Chardin. Xeus distinguishes his painting with a snaking bolt of red on the bottom of the canvas. Aaron Westerberg’s portraits in the show reverberate alongside those of Xeus’. Westerberg’s Braids (2014) captures female beauty with John Singer Sargent-like poise. It feels like it belongs to a different era. 

David Cheifetz, who has said of painting still lifes, “Pulling something extraordinary out of ordinary objects is incredibly satisfying,” presents variegated shades of blue in  Fuyulolling in Azure Niche (2012), which permeate its dark, textured surface, contrasting beautifully with the picture’s deep orange persimmons. Meanwhile, David Gluck’s shadowy still lifes, like The Tool Shed (2012), offer a meditation on chiaroscuro, a murky scene save for the luminous aqua handle of a screw and a blue cord running along the bottom of the painting. Daniel Sprick’s Bird in Dish shows a bizarrely constructed still life set. A bird skeleton is strung up in front of a piece of blue china in the midst of sundry other objects: stone jewelry, white roses, a moth, red ribbons, and a blue-bulbed lamp—random as they seem, they share an unexpected consonance.

The atmosphere of “Group X-2” calls to mind the kitsch movement, which the contemporary painter Odd Nerdrum claimed to have founded in the nineties. Nerdrum says of it, “Kitsch is about the eternal human question, whatever its form, about what we call the human.” It’s a tenuous label, often used to describe contemporary work that doesn’t feel contemporary or cutting-edge. Though for most kitsch painters, the term is deeply embraced, as this is exactly the point: working outside the structure of contemporary and avant-garde styles, they are not liable to the pursuit of high concept.  The focus is on skill and earnestness. The result is humanistic, emotionally charged painting, refreshing and un-ironic.

Group X-2” is on view at Gallery 1261, Denver, June 6th–July 19th, 2014.

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