Very BIG Pictures
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Works of art are the result of decisions made by the artist, many of which are easy enough to notice right away. Color is one obvious example. But the scale of a work, unless it be unusually small or large, is easy to overlook. Outsized scale alerts us to an important decision made at the outset, affecting everything.
In the New York Academy of Art’s “The BIG Picture,” the grand scale of the seven works on display is incredibly commanding, overpowering the space about them and bearing down on the viewer. The sheer physicality of them is an experience.
Large scale recalculates the relationship between image and technique. Fine brushstrokes merge into a large work like blades of grass merge into a field, whereas large brushwork attempts to answer large dimensions, creating surfaces where the physicality of paint and brushstrokes is a important visual factor.
Vincent Desiderio’s massive triptych, “Quixote,” 2008, positioned at the exhibit’s entrance, is an allegory of images. The left panel shows a grand piano, disassembled and packed for moving, floating weightless against the clouded sky. Its poetic stillness contrasts sharply with the rawness of the image on the right of a headless, disemboweled animal carcass against a wall of 1950s-era tiles, light green and pink, eroded and pockmarked. The wet, visceral innards of the cavity glisten behind the outward curling lips of the incision.
What is fascinating about the center panel, measuring 25 feet across, is the indirect, meditative approach to the subject of a bicycle. We see only its projected shadow, its spokes radiating thin and ghostlike from the composition’s center. Quiet sunlight lingers like absence among strewn pebbles and chipped plaster.
Spanish heat hammers down on two stormy figures in Eric Fischl’s “Corrida In Ronda #4,” 2008. A matador of swirling scarlet and orange momentarily turns his back to the bull he has wounded, lying like a knot of aggression and pain, its power and strength reduced to something manageable. Shadows slip around both figures in oily pools, surrounded on all sides by the warm the yellow Spanish ground.
Fischl’s warm palette and wide, slippery brushstrokes again create a great sense of physical presence in “Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene 1”, 2002, delineating thick, sculptural forms and the spaces that separate them.
In “Bleach,” 2008, by Jenny Saville, a young woman looms out of a mixture of brushstrokes, all slashes and ribbons of color. Clear eyes float, separate from the face that surrounds them in paint that is thick, tangible, almost sweaty. The confidence and energy of the brushwork, along with all the little areas where edges of paint push up against each other, fascinates.
The exacting and calculated work of civilization defies the raw force of nature in Mark Tansey’s “Coastline Measure,” 1987. A handful of figures, dwarfed by the storm-beaten granite coastline, carefully gather their data, seemingly unfazed by the violent wind and crashing ocean surges surrounding them. In both this and “Duet,” 2004, a sense of the irreducible quality of rock comes through in Tansey’s monochrome palette.
A strange nostalgia fills Neo Rausch’s “Hausmeister,” 2002, as half-familiar characters move among seemingly incoherent elements, merging into some sort of second-hand recollection. A young man, mid-stride, and a buxom woman, her bare leg put forward, consider a framed picture of a parcel of land as an older gentleman leans against a table.
But here the sense of familiarity ends. What of the open cabinet with its strangely formed feet? Or the crystalline matrix? The lettering across the bottom of the painting, or the weird form to the right? It’s as if 1930s poster adverts merged with dream images and came out a bit disturbing.
In oversized paintings, edges and spaces become whole passages in and of themselves. “The BIG Picture” allows an exciting opportunity to see how physical representational painting can be.
More information about Robert Edward Bullock’s work can be found at BullockOnline.com