Some paintings smack you in the face with emotionalism and raw energy. More controlled painting, like the works in this show, demands an almost meditative attention. It helps to devote time to looking and looking again; put away that cell phone, forget about texting. Go back for a review on another day. The reward will be an immersion in contrasts.
Thomas Deans always offers interesting and thoughtful exhibits at his gallery on Miami Circle. In this show titled Still + Life, two painters focus on still life and place. Stephen Pentak zeroes on a particular landscape of trees, often including water and horizon. Sydney Licht spins the mundane into voluptuous masses of color that transform ordinary objects, much like Cezanne’s bowls of fruit. Both artists transcend their subject matter with their considerable skill and exceptional attention to the craft of painting. Paint becomes poetry for these two painters.
The show is up until November 14. Photos of individual works courtesy of Thomas Deans Fine Art.
From the gallery’s site: The exhibition Still + Life presents paintings by Stephen Pentak and Sydney Licht, two highly regarded painters whose work explores the relationship between paint, form, and image. Both painters are thoroughly contemporary; both have developed unique and recognizable styles and have earned significant reputations; yet both work with traditional media, using established genres as a springboard to personal exploration.
I spoke briefly with Sydney Licht during the opening. She has a studio in Tribeca in NYC, and at one time taught at Ohio State University, where Pentak is Professor Emeritus. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to chat with Stephen.
A successful artist who has been showing and painting for some time, Ms. Licht is remarkably accessible. Her skill with paint and texture is evident and while the small works are obviously still lifes, her forms abstract and flatten planes. She achieves volume with juxtapositions of highly keyed color and occasionally adds small touches of patterns to the work. I mentioned an echo of Cézanne in her two still lifes of flowers in a striped vase, reminiscent of his portrait of his wife posed in her green striped dress. She admitted to a great affection for his work and to that of Vuillard, one of Les Nabis who also used pattern to his advantage.
Painting without much medium and no varnish, Ms. Licht succeeds in keeping her colors both distinctly clear and matte. Whether working on birch panels or linen, I was struck by the exquisite craft of her work. On unframed works, the edges are at least two inches deep and left bare, no gesso to mar the beauty of the raw linen or wood.
Licht has said in interviews that she limits her palette to essential colors, eliminated black many years ago and is interested in understanding color by using very little of it. She says: “At one point I asked myself, “Can I make a monochromatic still life with just slightly tinted hues of white?” Right after that, I really wanted to see how far I could go in pushing color intensity so the palette expanded to include a fluorescent yellow.”
One can see Morandi in her structure, but Licht’s colors are jazzed up and richer, more like the Fauvists. We also talked a little about how much we both like the Bay Area Figurative painters, who weren’t shy about using high chroma. She says she begins with a palette knife to establish the idea for a color and plane and refines from there.
A wonderful 2012 interview with Sydney Licht by Neil Plotkin, discussing her history and process of working can be found at Painting Perceptions. She is represented by Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in New York and is also a member of the still life group Zeuxis.
Stephen Pentak’s oils on paper, my favorite of his pieces in the show, have an almost Japanese feel in the brushwork and an emphasis on negative space. His muted colors can be deceiving until a closer look reveals the intensity of a dark cobalt teal contrasted with a dusky lavender or cobalt blue. He states that he uses a palette knife along with wide brushes, and often paints an allover ochre as a ground for the works. Scraping with the knife reveals the tonal base and gives a subtle luminosity to the paintings.
Pentak’s larger oils on wood panels show multiple glazing and scumbling, that adds to the depth. The geometry of rectangles seems to be a basis for the work, along with reflections in bodies of water that can be found in most of the paintings. An eloquent review of a 2003 exhibit by Richard Roth gets to the heart of Pentak’s work and can be found on his site here.