Artist Thaddeus Radell’s current exhibit at Bowery Gallery presents recent oils by a painter at the top of his game. Though Mr. Radell’s commitment to furthering the tradition of figure painting dates back to his student days (he studied with New York School artists Paul Resika, Leland Bell and Jack Heliker at Parsons in the early 1980s), this is his best work yet. In rugged, large-scale, multiple-figure compositions inspired by classical literature, Mr. Radell seems to have found his voice.
This exhibition, titled “Through a Glass Darkly,” includes six narrative panel paintings, some more than eight feet wide, as well as a series of smaller invented portraits. Using a somber gray palette, Mr. Radell creates an impasto surface by mixing pigments with wax medium, giving his scenes a bas-relief texture. In formally rigorous arrangements of figures, intense blues, yellows and oranges flicker against muted backgrounds painted with dull greens and cement grays. With heavy black lines, the artist conveys figures in mid-action.
In his artist’s statement accompanying the show, Mr. Radell discusses his process, saying these artworks begin as “intuitive constructions” with “random marks establishing larger masses of torsos, heads and limbs.” He goes on to say colors are used “to create light and enhance the emotional content.” This is figuration without realism and specificity that is not descriptive of a particular person or place but rather strives to express feelings like alienation, love, friendship and fear.
A highlight here is “On the banks of the Acheron,” the largest painting on display. Depicting a group of faceless figures in a cloud of gray atmosphere, this painting captures unfolding drama. A standing figure seems to point a gun while others nearby cower for cover or raise their hands up. Acheron, one of five rivers separating the underworld from the land of the living in Greek mythology, is a dark setting for a hostile scene.
Mr. Radell’s roughly drawn pictures are loosely sketched out. The characters acting out human dramas here are often left see-through, barely articulated with a few smudges of color and black scratchy outlines. But this approach works, functioning as a powerful metaphor for the human condition, with human existence and disappearance in perpetual play.
Thaddeus Radell: Through a Glass Darkly, on view through December 31st, Bowery Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, fourth floor, New York, NY, 646-230-6655, www.bowerygallery.org
More information about Carol Diamond’s work can be found at www.caroldiamond.com