The good thing about the notoriety and success of John Currin, predicts a painter friend, is that it’ll spark a renewed interest among younger artists in the Old Masters and traditional art-making skills-like drawing from the figure. That’s better than the umpteenth variation on Mona-with-a-mustache, I guess- how much better, only time will tell. There are indications that Mr. Currin’s old-school affectations are taking hold. Would a painter like Bryan LeBoeuf find a welcoming home in Chelsea otherwise?
Mr. LeBoeuf, whose recent canvases are on display at the Miller/Geisler Gallery, has clearly had a solid academic schooling. His knowledge of the human form, agility at manipulating oils and eye for the checks and balances of composition will draw “oohs” and “aahs” from New Yorkers resigned to the notion that they don’t make painters like they used to. Mr. LeBoeuf’s pictures of sons and fathers, brothers and sisters, women bathing and men sleeping are narrative fragments imbued with a strong sense of place. (They are, in fact, set in Louisiana, the artist’s birthplace.)
Scratch immediately below the mundane surface of Mr. LeBouef’s paintings and you’ll find a spooky and, at times, unseemly realm of sexual intrigue, familial discontent, identities in crisis and-if I’m reading accurately-alien invasion (for the canvas imbued with the acidic green light). This isn’t Currin territory; it’s what you get after mixing Andrew Wyeth, Eric Fischl, Boys’ Life magazine and The Twilight Zone . That is to say, straight-laced, poker-faced, all-American hokum.
Vessel (2004), a smallish horizontal canvas depicting a woman in her bath, is the exception. Mr. LeBoeuf’s subtle modulation of white and gray in depicting the porcelain tub and surrounding tile merits accolades, as does the slow, almost aching ascension of the woman’s right knee out of the bathwater. The picture’s seductive power can be traced to an unease that’s evoked rather than underlined-a sense of time forever stilled. Vessel brings to mind the uncanny quietude of Chardin and the skewed and pithy scenarios of Catherine Murphy, two sterling painters Mr. LeBoeuf might want to get to know and take inspiration from. Left to his own devices, he might not outgrow the caution bred by all his training.
Bryan LeBoeuf: Vessels is at the Miller/Geisler Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, until June 26.
A Small World
There’s no doubt about it: Hilary Harkness, whose recent paintings are on view at the Chelsea branch of the Mary Boone Gallery, has an imagination. Where to begin enumerating its wild and weird attributes? Each canvas presents a cross-section of a labyrinthine environment-a war ship, a futuristic industrial plant-overrun by tall, thin and scantily clad white women. Myriad scenarios take place simultaneously; most involve sex and violence, though dentistry and saving the whales also enter in to it. A painstaking artist (the show includes only three modestly scaled canvases), Ms. Harkness limns her doll-house fantasies with impressive diligence. Would that the touch weren’t so drab. Maybe then I’d agree with the opinion that Ms. Harkness is a “post-feminist Hieronymus Bosch.”
The thing is, Bosch wasn’t post-anything; the nightmarish realms he painted were real to him. Ms. Harkness isn’t capable of going out on that limb. Losing herself in a fiction is the one thing Ms. Harkness can’t imagine. Painting is merely a pose-freaky, fun and finicky. If anyone, she reminds me of Jared French, the 20th-century American artist whose stiff brand of magic realism has been lost to history, consigned to the storage racks. Ms. Harkness’ stiff brand of cartoon agitprop is likely to meet the same fate. Hilary Harkness is at the Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24th Street, until June 26.
“Talent at the End of the Line” was the headline for my review of Salvatore Federico’s abstract paintings seen last year at the Amos Enos Gallery. After looking at Mr. Federico’s recent pictures at the George Billis Gallery, I’m convinced he’s moving closer to the front of the line. He continues to capture, contain and distill movement, creating hard-edged, pirouetting forms aligned to a hexagonal grid. You don’t need to look at the finely rendered, diagrammatic drawings to intuit how exacting Mr. Federico is in mapping out the proportions of his origami-like shapes-it’s all there in the work’s taut and angular gestures. You do need to look at the paintings to appreciate how the palette-punchy, pure and jubilant-enriches the compositions, endowing them with emotional resonance.
Ischyrion and Spiridon (both 2004) are atypical paintings in that they feature more than one monumental form; each contains three. The former piece is whimsical, the latter joyous; both make overt their debt to the human form, and they’re better off for it. Pictorial variety becomes Mr. Federico. Someone throw him another ball-the more he has to juggle, the more exciting a painter he becomes.
Salvatore Federico is at the George Billis Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, until June 12.