by Marlene Steele

There is a little something for everyone in the Figurative Invitational at Miller Gallery. Their selection of artists, both local and international, accommodates several of the trendy approaches considered current today.

Moscow native, Larissa Morais’s oil painting entitled “Solace” captures a beautiful single figure kneeling anonymously behind a black bladed samurai sword. The exquisitely painted sleeves of her exotic kimono depict double herons taking flight in cascading tones of gold, silver and grey. This beautifully conceived figure exists flawlessly against the multi layered shades of black which reminds you that despite it’s detailed rendering, it is in fact hand painted.

Larissa Morais, Solace, 40 x 30, oil on panel

Isabelle du Tort (Rouaud) of Strasbourg, France now paints stateside and exhibits a work entitled “Oceans”.  A naked baby of undeterminable sex gazes quizzically out of the darkness. A plastic pouch of sea water, tethered to the child’s foot is the entire watery world of a bright blue fantastic fish. The baby’s big toe to which it is tied is of its own turning blue. Du Tort’s philosophy endorses a minimalist approach as a reaction to the “noise and useless, meaningless images” generated by the media. Her works with empty lightless backgrounds portray a disconnect with modern society and depict ‘loneliness as a human condition”.

Cuban born Carlos Games de Francisco exhibits “Three Teddy Bears, Sons of a Dutch Priest II”. In this portrait, the lace collared, armored bust of an unnamed female curiously combines elements of Spanish portraiture and the dark humor of Tim Burton. His figures seem to barely contain an ominous inner horror only hinted at on the surface by the mannerism of the painting.

Timothy John’s “Reincarnation”, a self-portrait, captures an intimate moment in the misty atmosphere of the daily cleansing shower. With the fingers of both hands, the subject explores his own upcast face with a sense of wonderment. The nearness of his elbow resting on the lower picture frame registers the closeness of the encounter which startles the viewer.

Timothy John, Reincarnation, 20 x 16, oil on panel

Also voyeuristic in concept but impressionistically impeded are the pieces by Ron Hicks. In a dark toned, intimate setting, the small figure of a woman considers her visage in the mirror of her boudoir. In another work, a maid observed from behind obscuring panels, performs domestic duties, seemingly unaware of being observed in the process. These pieces are heavily indebted to the more successful similar works of French impressionists. Sadly they add nothing to the conversation.

Anthony Ackrill’s “Dusk at Crying Rock” reflects his academic training both in concept and execution. The beautifully painted nude male (one of only 4 male figures depicted in the show) is classically reposed on the beach at night amid the threat of a tempestuous weather pattern. The overwrought drama of the setting belies the figure’s peaceful comportment. This overly romanticized combination of elements may be somewhat alienating to the taste of a modern viewer.

More palatable to contemporary taste are two subway scenes by Daniel E. Greene.

Daniel E. Greene, NA, Young Girl – 42nd St., 40 x 30, oil on panel

His women are definitely from the ‘now’. The painting “Young Girl, 42nd Street” portrays her figure jacketed in black leather, captured at the numbered street platform during a daily commute. With folded arms and confident gaze, she awaits her transport under the harsh fluorescent in the dark recesses of the tube.  Another work, “To North Moore Street”, depicts a young female executive arrayed in business suit attire, her bedraggled blond hair implicating the endured stress of the day. Despite the colorful design motifs dominating the tiled wall in this painting, the broken static of an unseen fluorescent passes like lightning through the center of the composition, alluding to the harsher aspects of subterranean urban infrastructure.

The figurative works of Zhaoming Wu and Jian Wu are both listed as highly awarded on the national circuit. The eye travels over the lovely forms of reclining and seated females, executed with heavy emphasis on drapery texture in composition. Extreme passages of brush bravura also comprise the bulk of the painted information in which the young girls of Kevin Beilfuss’s “Grace” and “Elegance” exist as mere fragmental ornaments.

“Tendril/Lever” is the title of the single large painting exhibited by retired local professor John Stewart.  A partially revealed female figure lies prone on voluminously rendered, multicolor-saturated satin sheets. The eye-candy chroma of the continuous tone surface is an example of airbrush technique, which trended in the 1980’s.

Possibly of more substance and reward is the trio of pastels by Ron Monsma.

Ron Monsma, Vessel, 30 x 40, pastel

Pause to absorb the lush surfaces of his large pastel paintings as beautifully executed figures combined with elements of symbolism hint at narrative mystery.  Monsma uses color temperature and illumination to set the mood with “Vessel” and “Sacred Ground”. The composition of “The Note” strikes this writer as a little shopworn but his other works appeal.

Lastly, Randy Ford features two hyper-realist works depicting diverse moods and settings. Entitled “The Protagonist” and “Morning Reviled”, these works are oil on panel and seem to emerge untouched by brush or human hand. The soft dark sadness of “Morning Reviled” contrasts with the harsher daylight and assertive posture of the “Protagonist”. Both panels are set in 3″ deep box framing that accent the modernity of these examples of the very contemporary hyper-realism trend.

Several additional works including photography and 2 sculptures round out this survey that certainly is a smorgasbord of trends and stylistic tendencies.

Painter Marlene Steele lives and teaches in Greater Cincinnati

Currently exhibiting in the University Club Invitational, 401East Fourth Street, Cincinnati, Ohio

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