The Art Basel Miami Miasma

Over at Layr Wuestenhagen Contemporary, a gallery exhibiting at the NADA Art Fair, sculptor Fabian Seiz does something similar with materials gleaned from the lumberyard, creating absurdist contraptions that are part Rube Goldberg, part Vladimir Tatlin. And Kirk Hayes’ trompe l’oeil paintings at Dallas’ Conduit Gallery were baffling: Even after realizing that his plywood and cardboard “collages” are the purest illusion, we still don’t believe it. Out-of-the-way finds like Mr. Hayes are, in the end, what make Art Basel’s machinations palatable.

Byron Dobell

Many dabble in painting, including those renowned for different artistic endeavors—John Mellencamp, say, or Anh Duong. It’s tempting to dismiss them as amateur enthusiasts—just don’t peg Byron Dobell, whose drawings, watercolors and paintings are at First Street Gallery, as one of them.

Mr. Dobell earned a significant reputation as an editor, holding important posts at Esquire, Life, New York, The Washington Post and American Heritage. Norman Mailer, Jacques Barzun, Tom Wolfe and Rebecca West all encountered his red pen. How did someone whose schedule didn’t encourage art-making do it all the same?

The answer: persistence and weekends. Instead of escaping to a country home, Mr. Dobell headed to the studio. A student of the caricaturist David Levine, he’s established himself as a professional portraitist. It can be a thankless job: Betty Friedan insisted that Mr. Dobell destroy his portrait of her; his refusal eventually landed it in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

Mr. Dobell’s skills are in evidence at First Street: A deft hand for anatomy; a keen attention to proportion; and, in Scottish Landscape (2006), an appreciative eye for the vagaries of light and atmosphere.

Mr. Dobell is unapologetic in his traditionalism: A friend of his remarks that “Dobell believes all important art ends with Degas.” Indeed, Mr. Dobell would rather pay homage than engage in commentary. Bronze Roman Youth (2006) makes deference to the classical world. Elsewhere, he applies oils, watercolor and various drawing media with an ease only someone experienced in the rigors of craft could achieve.

Byron Dobell: Recent Works is at First Street Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, until Dec. 22.