The act of creating art that turns personal pain into universal concern
is nothing new. Narrative paintings that can be read large - or
small - is a theme through the history of the medium.
two shows this winter follow that path, in works in which artists use family
history to explore some basic truths and seek understanding for
The first example is "Iswaswillbe," a show of work by Geoffrey Laurence at the Singer Gallery in the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Laurence, who lives in Santa Fe and received his master of fine arts from the New York Academy, addresses events, some horrific or inhuman, that cannot be explained, but should not be forgotten.
Primarily among those is the Holocaust, which claimed the lives
of many in his parents' families, though Laurence also takes on the
subjects of war, money and faith. His painting style is extremely
accomplished and has the ring of Old Master intensity and luminosity
in terms of the rendering of figures and. especially, their clothing.
Singer curator Simon Zalkind has hung the show so we can see the
evolution of the work: Laurence's paintings ring the outer wall,
while studies for them hang on the gallery's central triangle of
walls. The most striking, or perhaps the most shocking in its metaphorical
approach to the incomprehensible, is itswaswwbe. Laurence has placed
a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl and an apple-cheeked Nazi officer
in the spotlight, set against a red theater curtain. The man has
his arm thrown over the skeleton's shoulder, a sort of surreal -
and macabre - mini-chorus line that demonstrates the evil humans
can do during their time onstage.
Laurence said the work was part
of his desire to address his family's deaths and his parents' pain.
In short, "I try to understand my life through painting." The work which reportedly has stirred discussion among gallery visitors, gains its title from the translation of the Hebrew word Jahweh: "the force/spirit/energy that is all that is, was and will be."
In a different vein, Laurence uses the backdrop of classical paintings
to address the looting of the Baghdad Museum and the role of Wall
Street in governing our lives. In the first piece, HoldFast, three
soldiers sit on a bench in various poses of repose or alertness.
Behind them is a section of an almost kinetic Rubens' painting of
a rape scene, a telling juxtaposition to the crisp detailing in the
soldiers' bodies and gear. Laurence says he used the three figures
to illustrate "the transition of one soldier's war experiences," from
bravado to disgust.
For students of the use of light and reflection and the
way in which white and black can illuminate something as inert as
cloth, Collateral Damage is an object lesson in the painter's art.
A well-dressed man on the telephone - and wearing a jester's hat
sits before a reference to Guido Reni's painting of St. Michael and
the devil. The subject is Wall Street and its control of the world's
economy, though Laurence notes it's up to us to decide whether the
man is in control or controlled.
Like life itself.