Timothy van Laar @ Simone DeSousa

Timothy van Laar, Installation image, Simone DeSousa Gallery, 2020 All images are courtesy of the Simone DeSousa Gallery

Simone DeSousa Gallery presents Timothy van Laar in a solo exhibition titled Always Sometimes Never. Van Laar is a multi-media artist working primarily in painting, collage, installation and drawing. He has exhibited his work in over 250 solo and group exhibitions in the US and abroad. His work is included in collections such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Illinois State Museum, The Minneapolis Institute of Art and Herman Miller. Van Laar is also a distinguished scholar and art critic, co-authoring three books and has written numerous art reviews and catalog essays.

Van Laar’s new paintings are displayed alongside selected works from the 1980’s and the 1990’s. The new pieces originate in the ruptured signs and spaces of collage, referencing various utopian ideas- Eden, comfort, new worlds, prediction. The older works emphasize and give context to the broad, consistent issues of his work and show a long term commitment to paintings that embrace their materiality, rummage through cultural history and merge anxiety with pleasure.

It’s an education to view an artist’s older work in tandem with the newer because it illustrates the creative journey. Van Laar’s earlier work is pure abstract expressionism. Aggressive swirls, dabs and chunks of paint arranged in enough of a composition to keep the paint from dripping off the canvas. Ferociously applied paint using various tools are revealed by their residual marks and strokes. Muddy earth and grey tones lending a melancholy flavor.

Timothy van Laar, Natural History (Blossfeldt) XII, oil and wax on canvas 20×16″ 1996

Timothy van Laar, Natural History (Blossfeldt) VIII, oil and wax on canvas 20×16″ 1996

In the newer pieces, the work is cleaner with their subjects floating in a negative space, bound by palette and theme like electrons in an atom. The same artist’s hand appears in the application of thick paint in a dab and swirl motion, leaving tactile globs that strongly contrast with the blended smooth renderings of their neighboring objects.

I was immediately taken with New World. Identifying the mushroom with its lingering cloud set off mental alarms. I’m pleased that cloud seems to be merely an embarrassing expulsion of nuclear flatulence versus an Armageddon style eruption. Let’s hope we get off that easy. A tender component is an assortment of colored circles occupying the grid. This is an interesting device that not only contributes to the overall composition, it affords a bit of cheer to the narrative. This color scheme phenomenon appears regularly in this artist’s work and has carried through a few conceptual evolutions. An older, smaller work The Book of Landscape, (Ansel Adams), van Laar seems to be inviting the viewer to paint the mountains with these suggested colors as in a paint-by-numbers kit. I liked this work so much it made its debut in my IG feed when it was freshly conceived.

Timothy van Laar, New World, oil on canvas 36×48″ 2019

Timothy van Laar, The Book of Landscape (Ansel Adams), oil on canvas 16×20″ 2017

In Eden, van Laar chose to paint his hummingbird in a loose and expressive manner. Without the benefit of detail, and far from scale size, it effectively communicates this bird’s delicate loveliness. In the upper left corner is the provided color sampler presented in a Matisse cut-out style. A small Escher-like object rounds out the subjects. This is a very calming piece — a pleasure to New World’s anxious tone.

Timothy van Laar, Eden, oil on canvas 36×48″, 2019

In the tech-comm realm where everyone seems to be shouting, this exhibition has as much to say as anyone about our global fears, but van Laar discusses his point of view quietly and beautifully. If you want to get someone’s attention, whisper.

 

Ryan Standfest @ Simone DeSousa – EDITION

Simone DeSousa EDITION presents I went to work but I did not get there, a special feature of new works by Ryan Standfest.

“In my work, unrequited yearning for progress collides with more complex realities in which failure undermines expectation and shifts centers of power in an absurd cycle of hyped aspiration and subsequent deflation. These polarities necessitate social critique with the question of who is allowed to access dreams of fulfillment and what that yields. I return to a very particular convoluted working class inclination toward longing undercut by repulsion: the need for upward mobility combined with a distrust of what that success gains access to.”

Standfest’s exhibition is multi-media including everything from relief prints, paint, tape and a metal lunch box. The craftsmanship is so stellar, it allows the viewer to proceed directly to the message. The humor, as well as the futility, shines through in tightly organized configurations. I appreciate the contrast of clean lines alongside the rough-cut collaged material.

Ryan Standfest, Factory Head No. 5 (TODAY I MADE NOTHING), archival inkjet on Epson 15×15″ framed, 2019 Image courtesy of the artist

Standfest’s cold industrial, almost a chilling Vonnegut Welcome to the Monkey House vibe, is suddenly broken with an old-timey sales pitch that produced an actual LOL from this viewer. FINAL DAYS! EVERYTHING MUST GO! The theme of this show contains both the depressing and the mundane. Current economic circumstances in “NO HELP WANTED” and a familiar “Today I Made Nothing” complete with Standfest’s headgear version of the Monkey House’s heavy collar of obedience and conformity, rendering the subject anonymous. As one who is capable of sitting in my studio ‘working’ when no visible change has been made to any of the pieces, I can spin the apparent inactivity into some kind of philosophical explanation that I’ve been contemplating the palette or the composition or ruminating over my entire concept: How to look busy without actually producing anything.

Ryan Standfest, Ryan Standfest,  Wide shot of the entire installation, 2020

THE WOUND OF THE WORKING CLASS! sits close to the center of the installation, enjoying a splash of pink, the only bright color in an otherwise muted palette. Hope? We don’t need no thought control.

Both van Laar and Standfest employ harsh narratives tempered with moments of sparkling humanity. They both explore current social, environment and economic themes. Muted but bright. Expressive yet controlled. The dichotomy of human existence.

Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Tim van Laar and Ryan Standfest at the Simone DeSousa Gallery runs through Feb 22, 2020

Robert Schefman @ David Klein Gallery

Robert Schefman, Installation image, David Klein Gallery, 2019

In his first solo exhibition with David Klein Gallery, Robert Schefman presents a series of works exploring the hidden world of secrets. Via social media, Schefman asked followers to send him one personal secret, no names attached. Protected under a cloak of anonymity, Schefman coaxed quite a few people out of their shame and guilt to reveal the darkest of grave-destined secrets. These confessions became the framework for this series. The paintings are allegorical visual poems inviting the viewer to peer into the subjects’ private space glimpsing their angst or discomfort. Particularly striking is “On the Edge of the Moon,” wherein a woman seated alone on the beach in an ordinary kitchen chair, faces out toward the gloom. She appears to be contemplating her circumstances while the rhythm of the surf calms and comforts. A vital component of this painting is scale. At 78 x 120”, the viewer can mentally walk right into this scene illuminated only by the headlights from a waiting car.

Robert Schefman, “On the Edge of the Moon,” oil on canvas 78 x 120″ 2019

Visually poignant is “In Love with My Best Friend.” Unable to declare his love, possibly at the expense of a valued friendship, the unrequited lover sits amongst tokens of lovelorn and childhood toys, possibly symbolizing the length of the relationship. A bare light bulb harkens to harsh interrogation, coercing the admirer to give up his ghost and confess. His head is slightly bent toward his chest, implying the burden he carries on his broad but heartbroken shoulders.

Robert Schefman,  “In Love with My Best Friend,” oil on canvas 72 x 56″ 2019

Using our familiarity with texting and Twitter, the laser cut words-only pieces, devoid of a supplied visual reference, allows the viewer to consider their secrets. As a painter, reading “Someone Else Did One of My Paintings and I Signed My Name” caused my left eyebrow to rise in Scarlett O’Hara judgment. Identifying with an author makes the show somewhat participatory and taps into empathy on shared common ground. #metoo

Robert Schefman, “I Prefer My Mom’s Company Now That She Has Alzheimer’s,” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Robert Schefman,  “I Can’t Admit to All of the Drugs and Alcohol I Constantly Use to Get High” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Technology lends to speed and convenience. It made collecting this subject matter considerably easier. What makes this show genuinely compelling is mindful, patient execution. Schefman deftly wields his paintbrush with the best of the Renaissance Italians, masterfully telling dramatic stories through light and shadow. Throw in a side of Dutch trompe l’oeil, and the illusion is astonishing. Upon close inspection, however, it is surprising and delightful to discover the brushstrokes are looser than anticipated affording a soupçon of personal expression. A very relatable image is “Secrets.” In an attempt to silence his torment, this secretary seeks to ‘bury the evidence literally. I get that this image is metaphorical, but the idea of a thief on the precipice of capture, hastily disposing of material that will surely convict him, is far more romantic.

Robert Schefman, “Secrets” oil on canvas 44 x 30″  2017

 

KF: Assuming the models aren’t the confessors, why are most of the subjects’ backs turned?

RBS: Point of view is a valuable element in the narrative, with implications for both content and visible form. It accomplishes a number of goals. The back of a figure gives the viewer an easier opportunity to project themselves into a subject, rather than an encounter a specific person. In “The Edge Of The Moon,” point of view was used to keep the viewer isolated from the figure on the beach, and still experience the intersection of earth, water, sky, and self.

KF: Your genre has historically been an illusionist narrative via sculpture and painting. Why spell it out now with the text-only/no image pieces?

RBS: So much of the “Secrets Project” was generated by words that I wanted to honor the written word with pieces that focused on them. I have a long history of making paper sculpture as well as 2-dimensional work, and developing an idea with these elements resolved itself in a pointed way.

KF: What about your secrets? Are they lurking somewhere in this series unidentified?

RBS: Most of the secrets fell into categories; experiences, fears, and obsessions that we all share, myself included, but the rule of the project is anonymity, so my secrets remain.

Technology has permeated just about every aspect of our lives. From the comfort of our sofa, we command our smart devices to deliver groceries or name a state capitol. (I shudder to think what’s being recorded.) Many people are using social media channels as a crowdsourcing confessional, looking for validation from strangers as often as from people they actually know. It’s getting harder to maintain personal privacy while we demand transparency from public figures. Some feel relieved when they finally clear the slate. What about the participants in this project? Did this action unburden the keepers and free them from their prison? Ask Alexa.

Robert Schefman, Any Particular Secret” 54×36″ oil on canvas 2017

 

“Robert Schefman: Secrets” remains on view through December 21, 2019 at the David Klein Gallery