Pillows, Persimmons, Vintage Games, and Consumer Products: Still Life Painting for the 21st Century

In the heart of San Francisco, a city increasingly influenced by the culture of virtual reality in neighboring Silicon Valley, CK Contemporary presents an exhibition in which tangibility rules. Titled “Objects of Beauty: Contemporary Still Life Painting,” it features paintings—of pillows and persimmons, vintage games and denuded consumer products—that activate the urge to touch and encourage viewers to find beauty and interest in even the most humble of the things that surround us. Though their styles and choice of subjects varies widely, each of the artists included in the exhibition has taken stock of the long tradition of still-life painting, and is keeping it alive and relevant during the ongoing technological revolution of our 21st century.
On view are compositions by artists hailing from the U.S., Europe, and Australia, centered upon objects ranging from symbolic to mundane. American revels in the complex network of rumples and creases in pristinely white pillows, bed sheets, and tissue paper. In Nectarine in Tissue I (2013), a red and yellow fleshed nectarine bulges lusciously from its tissue-paper wrapping, whose every fold and wrinkle is rendered with trompe l’oeil precision. So too is the form of the pillow in his surrealistic Ocean Beach Pillow (2014), which appears comfortably rumpled and crushed, as if just used, against the turquoise hues of sky and sea. Italian focuses mainly on fruit and other foodstuffs, as well as various bottles and containers, in his elegant, precisely painted arrangements, which read as studies in color, texture, and composition. In #117 (2014), a few tomatoes and a couple of heads of garlic and peppers are artfully arrayed across the picture plane, set against the rich, purple tones of a paper bag and background wall, while in #101 No Logo (2011), an assortment of bottles stripped of their labels recalls the earlier still lifes of . Even power tools serve as artistic fodder for American , who sets a drill on its head and against a black background in Big Drill No. 2 (2014). In keeping with the historically allegorical function of still-life paintings, perhaps this could be read as an admonition: remember the power of the hand in our increasingly digitized age.
Karen Kedmey
Objects of Beauty: Contemporary Still Life Painting” is on view at CK Contemporary Sept. 6th–Oct. 6th, 2014.