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ART-TALK NEWSPAPER - FEBRUARY 2007

 

HOCUS POCUS PAINTING
By Renée Targos

 

The veil between reality and imagination is lifted when artists mesh the two worlds. Bringing the unusual to the mundane, these four artists hare what inspires them to create a world of magic.

The definition of magical realism is about as illusive as a good magic trick Played like a ping‑pong between the art and literary worlds, the term originated with German art critic Franz Rob in 1925 to describe post‑expressionist work that depicted mundane reality without any fantastic elements. The phrase metamorphed into the literary term first used by author Alejo Carpentier in 1948. Around the same time (between 1943 and the 1950s), North American painters depicting realistic subjects with surrealistic overtones were donned magical realists, deviating from Roh's original definition. In the 1960s, a large European population of magical realist fiction writers emerged to dominate the categorical description. This trend continued into the 1980s and 1990s, specifically American and European authors, such as Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie. In the last five years, a group of visual artists, exploring imaginative scenarios with, honed realistic painting skills, are producing a new (neo) magical realism. While these artists struggle to identify themselves and find their place in the market, their work blends realistic forms and dreamlike themes into skilled works of art. In the last five years, galleries and art centers have been describing these artists as magic realists in exhibitions such as the 2003 Magic Realism: A New Generation at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo,Col. "I think its gaining public notice," says painter Ron Kostoff, a participant of the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center show. "Technology has made the world smaller. A lot of scientific methods have demystified life. I think these paintings let us sneak under the fence into the spiritual world where you're don't have to have an answer for everything. I think society as whole needs that to go into a space without having to know exactly what's going on:'

Looking Glass

These artists say they moved beyond painting strictly reality due to the function and power of images. New Mexico painter Geoffrey Laurence, who considers himself a "feelist, rather than a realist" believes that images transcend words. "Visual language is older than verbal language:' says Laurence. "In our dreams, we don't remember what we say, but we remember what we see. "During cave times, around 75,000 years ago, rock art has been shown to be shamanistic," continues Laurence. "They were in an altered state while staring at these images... those were directions and had a far more serious function to reach places in people that other forms can't touch:' California painter Michael Sokolis found 'his paintings stirred people up. After changing from doing realistic urban landscapes to magic realism. "I had a show in Los Angeles in August of 2005:' says Sokolis. "I put in one painting called, Phoneline Tightrope. There were about 600 people at the show, and frenzy around that one painting. I've had a lot of opening nights, but there was something different about this one. The response prompted me to go further' After receiving praise from a Los Angeles County Museum of Art research committee and a building collector interest in his Balancing Act series, Sokolis believes painting everyday working people walking on phone lines represents 21st century life. "I think it goes down to an unconscious place," says Sokolis. "It's all about the rigors of balancing life. Things get pretty hectic, and we are trying to spin all the plates, it's a visual reference to being in that moment."

Slip Into Storytelling

For Laurence, and New mexico painter Lea Bradovich an idea springs to life setting off a story line of characters. For example, Bradovich's love of gardening and entomology started an idea. "The serendipitous things that happen bring ideas to mind," says Bradovich. "I have more ideas than I can execute. In my work, The Queen Bee, there is along party of bee attendants. It got me to thinking about hive hierarchy‑the royalty of the hive. I was working on a portrait, and it came to me that it could be about bees. It was as simple as that." Researching other artists' work and advertisements, Bradovich opens herself up to all elements and lets her mind juxtapose them on canvas. She says paintings usually will open up stories for her. "When I work, I sometimes come up with a story and write it down in a notebook;' says Bradovich. "Eventually, I want to see more of the characters?' The same was true for Laurence who painted a family of characters based on his painting, Papillon de Nuit. "After I painted him, I decided to paint his wife, Madame Papillon," says Laurence. "Then I decided to paint her brother. He was a cad. He got money but spent it all in a New Orleans bordello?' Laurence continued to come up with characters. "It was a story about a strange family, and it all came from that one painting;' says Laurence. "1 don't know why it came to me. I never did a family before‑it just happened. In these paintings there is an element of time. I want to give viewers a sense of the before and after of a moment in time?'

Transposing the Vision

While Bradovich and Laurence both use models, Laurence says he selects models that look like the characters in his mind. For Sokolis, he invites a variety of people into his studio and takes pictures of them walking on a beam three inches from the floor. "In my case, its not a spontaneous act;' says Sokolis. "I stage models on balancing beam. I photograph the model and then cherry pick the image of that moment when the model is in total concentrating on balancing. It's very present‑moment living?' With Kostoff, a painting can take up to six months just to execute a one to two second fleeting image that crosses his mind. "I try to paint without varying much from that initial vision," says Kostoff. "I build miniatures. I try to get about 99 percent of the vision and resolve problems. The complexity of achieving the impression of the idea can take some time. It's very laborious and much time is spent in preparation?' Because of this, Kostoff produces approximately five works per year. He says there is a high degree of integrity and vulnerability in showing his work "I won't let a work go until it satisfies me," says Kostoff. "It doesn't matter about the money, it first must satisfy ... as an artist, you need to be able to tell the truth no matter what the consequence?'

 
 
 
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