Birds of America: Explorations of Audubon The Paintings of Larry Rivers and Others
By Kathy Zimmerer
Fans of James Audubon’s exquisite large-scale plates in his Birds of America will enjoy Larry Rivers’ loosely painted but spirited renditions of Audubon’s gorgeous illustrations. Painted by Rivers in the 1990s in tribute to the re-release of Audubon’s book, other contemporary artists also were invited to contribute their unique interpretations of Audubon’s birds, ranging from the surrealist to the photorealistic, for this exhibit.
Rivers was an important New York artist who revived figurative expressionism after the advent of Abstract Expressionism. His work included such witty and incisive paintings as “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” a reimagining of the historic painting by Leutze. His reinterpretation of famous masterpieces were both pop and expressionistic at the same time, but he steered clear of the deadpan commercialization of pop with his luscious painting surfaces where color ruled. A true Renaissance man, he had multiple talents and was a teacher, jazz musician, filmmaker, television personality, actor, wrote poetry and designed for the stage.
While Rivers riffs on Audubon’s imagery he manages to crystallize the essence of the image or portrait of each bird much as Audubon did. While fluidly painted, the Black Necked Stilt has an intriguing oddity to its presence as it balances on one leg, with a three dimensional depth since it is collaged on. His portrait of Audubon and his dog encompasses the keen intelligence and love of nature that Audubon is famous for, while holding a rifle, a bird perches on his head and his hunting dog by his feet. This lyrical, flowing portrait is modern yet seems timeless. Most stunning of his bird paintings is Plumed Partridge, where these brilliantly colored birds with their intricate feathers are silhouetted against an illusory landscape. Rivers is a genius at outlining their shapes and movement; just as he beautifully captures the contrasting burnt sienna and soft blue of their plumage. Their life and vitality reverberates across the surface. The proud look of his Double Crested Cormorant can be attributed to Rivers concise portrayal of this bird, whose yellow plumage laid against the black feathers stands out against the sky. All of his birds have an uncanny presence, such as the Avacet, a kind of sand piper that delicately picks up food with his long beak. Depicted in a shell pink against the accents of his feathers and beak, Rivers imbues this bird with a dainty walk.
Current prominent artists who have reinterpreted Audubon’s prints with wildly divergent styles augment Rivers’ suite of paintings on the Birds of America. The California Condor by Tom Sanford shows this prehistoric bird perching on top of the a skull, and a pile of old fast food wrappers and drinks, topped by a beer can, showing the birds precarious hold on life in the midst of an environment overwhelmed by trash. The power of this huge bird is magnified by the stylized lines and outlined silhouette Sanford uses to create him. Kent Williams’ Raven is a study in color for a black bird as pinks, blues and yellows dissolve and melt in the bird’s feathers and ground. Paul Paiement’s acrylic, mixed media painting, After Audubon, After River, American Robin is a photorealist tribute to the birds and the American landscape. Thomas Frontini’s painting, The Brown Pelican, depicts a magnificent bird as it opens it impressive beak, with the latent strength of its wings evident in its volumetric profile. Shimmering midnight blue envelopes a vase with blue, pink and coral flowers where a bright blue bird perches in Patrick Neal’s still life, Indigo Bird. The Golden Eagle, in all its regal power, with chilling claws and a sharp beak, is portrayed concisely by Nelson Loskamp. Whimsy and poetry takes over in Robert Fleisher’s delicate watercolor, Yellow Breasted Chat as tiny birds build a delicate nest among pink flowers. Darkness overcome Chambliss Giobbi’s collage, Raven, as a pair of wings highlighted against a dark sky gives an ominous cast to the atmosphere.
In these diverse and rich reinterpretations of Audubon’s unique vision, Rivers and contemporary artists have shown the fantastic diversity of American wildlife that is threatened in an alarming way by the current political climate. Their spotlight on these splendid birds shows just how much we have to lose if we do not fight back.
Zeuxis "The Unstilllife"
Windgate Art and Design
University of Arkansas Fort Smith;
535 North Waldron; Fort Smith, AR 72913
April 3 - May31 2017
University of Mississippi Museum and
University Ave. and 5th Street; Oxford, MS 38655
April 10 - July 28 2018
Paintings that Praise the Paradises of Bohemia
by Patrick Neal, Hyperallergic, May 12, 2017
A Studio Visit with Scott Schnepf by Patrick Neal in Tether Arts Journal No. 3
Look for it this May 2017 at www.tether-magazine.com
Exhibition Essay by Rick Whitaker
Floors and Walls-New Paintings
The Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, NY, May 2007
If, as Clive Bell wrote in his early-20th-century essay "The Debt to Cézanne," that greatest of modern painters invented an instrument on which later artists may "play their own tunes", Patrick Neal has fashioned from it a prepared piano in which nuts and bolts and rubber bands are placed inside the grand piano making sounds newly strange, exotic, and fresh, enabling the composer to indicate with a conventional notation a panoply of noises that evoke the gamelan, music we in the West will never fully understand or appreciate, however much we may love its exhilaratingly chaotic-sounding productions. What we love most about the Tibetan sound is precisely its otherness, its distance from our own sound-world, and likewise one of the aspects of Patrick Neal's paintings is the sense they suggest of distance from an ordinary pictorial relation to the object. It's music, but it's not diatonic or modal or even serial. The harmonic gestalt is unique.
As I write this, I can hear 'music' from the simplest and folksiest of 'instruments,' a homemade wind chime bought years ago on a summer day from a farmer who had fashioned it from spoons, an ingenious little contraption that makes the sweetest sounds I know, the easy relation between weather and metal reminding me of the outdoors, of the wind, of the farmer, of summer, of the years gone into the past. Similarly, Patrick Neal's pictures evoke the natural world that lies behind Cézanne; they suggest both Aix-en-Provence and the unsettling aftermath, the world since Cézanne. By having come so close to his precursor, it's as if Neal has gone madly into the arena, and his paintings are the record of a struggle that is meant to disturb. The spectators want to see blood shed, and Neal's agon with Cézanne gives it to us in one picture after another. Painting for Neal is frankly competitive and ruthless, he tears off a piece of the past and masticates it before our eyes. It’s exhausting and endless work. There is no clean success, no ultimate victory, there is no hope of overcoming or subduing the master, just as no writer has ever seriously entertained the feasibility of matching, let alone overtaking, Shakespeare’s breadth and depth. Writers do not even attempt it, it is a hopeless impossibility. And so it is with Cézanne, on whom no painter could conceivably improve. One is forced to do something else. Coping with his work of a century ago, for a certain kind of painter, is a shaming prospect. Thus the excitement we feel witnessing an artist like Patrick Neal's originality oozing out from the desiccated sac of the history of art. His paintings are re-inventions or re-visions, astonishing re-figurations of what cannot be other than already-seen. The paintings suggest that we are nearing the end of re-seeing, that these pictures have eked out whatever life is left in the particular kind of seeing known as painting. Perhaps it has always been so, perhaps Cézanne’s paintings appeared similarly final a hundred years ago in their statement of what the artist is capable of doing with pigment on a flat canvas. But there is something vertiginous about imagining a painter grappling, a hundred years from now, with Patrick Neal's bloody, battle-worn works of art.
Tastes of Mingled Palettes
The Boston Globe, Thursday, June 23, 1994
Tastes of Mingled Palettes
By Nancy Stapen
New Talent at Alpha Gallery, 14 Newbury Street, through July 8
For the buyer willing to go with his or her intuition, this is a great time of year to visit the galleries. Those with less-than-deep pockets can benefit from the crop of "new talent" shows, those yearly rituals at which galleries try out new artists with highly affordable price tags. Some of these hopefuls go on to artistic prominence; others disappear into obscurity. In any event, the wise buyer concentrates on finding that obscure object of desire.
The sovereign site of new talent is the Alpha Gallery, which is holding its record-breaking 26th annual New Talent show. Among the well known painters who premiered here are John Moore, Francis Gillespie, Richard Sheehan, Aaron Fink and Scott Prior. This year's group of five is a mixed bag; yet, though their styles vary, all are concerned with nature and organic form. They include older and younger artists; among the former is Beverly Floyd. Her abstract oils and collages of striped elongated forms, often labeled "Floating Gourds," evoke such natural phenomena as tadpoles or muscle tissue. Lodged in wide horizontal bands of muted color and partially obscured by gauze, tissue or blurred paint, they are veiled and elusive. They suggest something coming into being, or thoughts emerging to consciousness.
In Dennis Crayon's collaged fresco-like paintings, past and present collide. Seeming to be crumbling ancient fragments, the images are created via photostatic transfers onto plaster. Eggs and bunches of grapes are frequent motifs, combined with images of architectural sites, what appear to be computer chip patterns and (sometimes actual) tools. Some of the images of eggshells seemingly dematerializing are particularly effective; they evoke life's fragile beginnings.
Nature is fragile yet stalwart in Judith Bowerman's low-key monotypes of single plants, flowers or trees, which delicately explore aspects of texture and color. A seemingly gray-brown palette is leavened by pale yellow, and undertones of pink and magenta. The attenuated, isolated forms are offset by Bowerman's confident contours. She is an artist who doesn't shout, but hums.
By contrast, Patrick Neal's oil paint still lifes are busy with patterns derived from Islamic and Asian cultures. Still, their earthly rusts and greens maintains a muted mood. Neal tilts his objects upward; this spatial play is futher complicated by the regularity of the patterns played off against the lush leaves of randomly proliferating plants. In "Still Life With Islamic Pattern" the leaves curl near a vase painted with floral designs, a fluid meeting of nature and culture. Neal's images suggest that the 70's movement known as Pattern and Decoration is still alive for young artists.
The youngest artist and only sculptor, Bethany Bristow (who graduates from the Museum School this year), works in glass and mixed media. Bristow melts and distorts bottles in a kiln, creating objects reminiscent of the body, with a curious mix of tensile strength and enervation. Rope binds the forms, or, in works like "Bleed," emanates from the bottles' "orifices," suggesting seeping body fluids. Kiki Smith and Eva Hesse are clearly influences, but Bristow gives every evidence of developing a strong subjective voice.