Greg Storer at La Poste Eatery
by Jonathan Kamholtz
As you walk into the space where Greg Storer’s paintings are hanging, to your left are two small pictures of cars parked at a drive-in, their screens towering above mostly empty landscapes. One painting features a scene from The Godfather (1972) (“And That Day May Never Come”), and the other shows the Soggy Mountain Boys singing and recording in the radio studio of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Both images are as frontal as an Egyptian sarcophagus. They are as formal as movie theater lobby cards blown up a thousand times. These are not paintings about complex intimacies or any of the other moody high jinks for which America remembers the drive-in, an institution mostly kept alive by nostalgia in 2000. They seem to be about our hunger for images, our appetite for projecting iconic pictures upon a landscape.
The greater part of Greg Storer’s paintings in his show at La Poste Eatery are equally interested in the iconic. He paints the porches of small-town America, the domestic geometry of exurban bungalows. They are located in some of the territory of Edward Hopper, sometimes as seen through the eyes of, say, a Chris Van Allsburg. They work on us in complex ways. They are about both privacy and exposure; they make us feel welcome on the one hand, only to ask, “Hey, you! What are you looking at?” “Piety,” for example, is set on a wildly bright day in the deep shade of a porch, though the shade is not so deep that we could miss the shadow of a large dog sitting alertly in front of the door, looking at us. Storer’s world is both accessible and forbidding. It cautiously celebrates a non-urban middle class mythos. Its homes, streets, and lawns have roots in the early twentieth century and before, but their relationship to the viewer is presented with perpetually renewing mystery.
In “Preacher” (I have no explanation for the titles), we see the front and side of a house raked by sunrise (or sunset), with beautiful shadows (from serviceberries?) along the wall. Details have been chosen very selectively. The porch balusters have been rendered with care, their complex shadows suggesting that they have settled unevenly with time. The lawn is so flat it might as well have been airbrushed out. (In “Piety,” the front steps are a solid green; they might even be astroturf.) But the steps up to the porch are not visible. There is no guy on the porch telling us to get off his lawn, but this is private property, a commodity as well as a mood, and not a world into which we are being cordially invited. Besides, who is there to invite us?
Storer’s work, drawn from several different parts of his career, is on display at La Poste, Clifton’s excellent upscale restaurant which has had changing exhibitions of art on view since it opened in 2010, selected first by independent curator Kip Eagen and now by painter Kay Hurley. (Disclosure: I have enjoyed many outstanding meals there.) Co-owner Jens Rosenkrantz points out that putting paintings in such a space is a very different proposition from hanging them in a gallery, where people come and go with intense but brief focus: “We have to show work that people can sit with for two hours and more.” Showing art in an upscale restaurant implicitly makes its own demands. As Hurley says, “it can’t look like a garage sale”; Rosenkrantz adds that “we bring in some pretty well-heeled eyeballs” who have a chance to see the work of some of Cincinnati’s premier professional painters. The restaurant takes no commission on sales. But Hurley also notes that the informality of showing art in a restaurant is an important factor. “The environment for selling artwork is changing, facing new challenges because of the internet. There are more pop-up venues”—places not designed as art galleries that can be appropriated to show art for briefer periods of time—“all over. The restaurant is a sophisticated pop-up venue. It’s the future. Actually, it’s the present.” Hurley thinks back to the first places she ever showed art in Cincinnati and they too were restaurants, like Carol’s on Main, long gone. But today, of course, there’s the Metropole.
La Poste has made a commitment to show art that does not merely distract the diner whose entrée or companion have been delayed. There are no gorgeous renderings of food and no visual elevator music. Eagen and Hurley have focused on artists whose work is part of the midwest’s artistic view of itself, at once evocative and self-deprecating, both low-key and epic. As part of this tradition, they have shown, for example, the paintings of Cole Carothers and Tom Bacher, and the traffic photos of David Rosenthal as part of a Fotofocus show. Greg Storer’s work operates in some of the same territories. The most rural piece in the show is “Secrets,” where screens of fall leaves obscure a white house in the woods, much like Storer’s other houses only vertically elongated, a hidden castle. The most urban piece is “Silence,” which focuses on a modest downtown (it could have been O’Bryonville), coolly lit by the moon, but with a spotlight of warm light, perhaps from a street lamp, brightening a brick wall. There is something theatrical about both—“Silence” could be a stage set for a Jerome Robbins ballet—reminding us again of the interplay in Storer’s work between what we are invited to see, but from which we need to keep a respectful distance.
Storer’s work rises or falls on his treatment of domestic space that is both ordinary and iconic, everyday and grandiose. In “The Lawyer,” we are in the narrow background of what might be a two family frame house. It is a windless day, once again towards sunset or sunrise, and the colors are modestly saturated. (It is never overcast in these paintings, and never winter.) Laundry has been hung out to dry. The painting has a great formal elegance. There is a light fence and a dark one, and each item on the clothesline has been reduced to a single block of color. Where are the people? They’ve left their traces behind and have disappeared. I did not feel that these pictures were about being good neighbors. It is once again unsure what we are doing in the backyard, or whether we are safe looking at someone else’s laundry. Should we be on the alert for zombies? It is not entirely clear to me whether Storer sees this world as still vital, with a complex economy and imaginative life going on unseen, or whether, like the drive-in, it is another homage, if perhaps a critical one, to a world kept alive by, or for, nostalgia. It would be a good show to spend two hours with, watching how the forces of mystery and exuberant banality play out a grand conflict, doing their best to fashion something that can satisfy our appetite for a great image.