Andrew Stevovich: Solitary Dreams at the Danforth Museum
The book Andrew Stevovich: Essential Elements is a new release of Hard Press Editions.
Essenial Elements a New Release from Hard Press Editions
Andrew Stevovich; Solitary Dreams
The Danforth Museum
October 24- December 2, 2007
Andrew Stevovich: Essential Elements
Texts by Carol Diehl, Anita Shreve, introduction by John Sacret Young and an interview with Valerie Ann Leeds. Hard Press Editions/ ACC Distribution, 187 pages with 175 color illustrations. Hardcover $65. In stores in December, 2007.
The deadpan narrative paintings of Andrew Stevovich, with their frozen moments of social interactions, are located within a well defined art historical spectrum that begins with the expressionless faces and flawless architectonics of the Italian Renaissance master, Piero della Francesca (1412-1492). That signature approach continued through the French Post Impressionists and the formalism of George Seurat or the exotic gaze of the Tahiti women staring out at us in paintings by Paul Gauguin. The path to the current matrix of Stevovich may be navigated through the American artists of the Depression years with references to Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, the brothers Moses and Raphael Soyer, the Social Realists, Reginald Marsh, Isabel Bishop, William Gropper and Jacob Lawrence. There are inevitable detours through the asocial isolation of Edward Hopper, the surreal detachments of George Tooker, and the more engaged strategies of Paul Cadmus, or the formalist enigmas of Will Barnet.
There is a lot of connective tissue and a vast range of associations that are evoked by the works of Andrew Stevovich. The recently released publication from Hard Press Editions and its superb design and production make the most compelling possible argument for the artist and his work. This is as fine a book as any artist might hope for with a splendid array of superbly printed images.
That this artist has always enjoyed a strong following with numerous one man shows in a range of galleries and museums speaks for itself. The Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts is presenting, through December 2, a selection of works and the prepatory drawings, curated by the museum's director, Katherine French. The Clark Gallery in Lincoln, Mass. has an exhibition of recent work on view through the end of this month. In New York, the Adelson Gallery has represented his work since 1990. Prior to that Warren Adelson showed Stevovich at Coe Kerr, starting in 1981, when he was then a director of that gallery.
This handsome monograph acknowledges the substantial career of an artist who was born in Austria, in 1948, grew up in the Washington D.C, area, and attended the Rhode Island School of Design from 1966- 1970. He had his first gallery exhibition as part of the four-person annual "New Talent" at Boston's Alpha Gallery in 1970. He showed with Alpha for the next decade. He has lived in the Boston area since graduation from RISD.
The essays and interview with the artist in this new book state that Stevovich thinks of himself as an "abstract artist." As he told Valerie Ann Leeds "…Over the years I have had people dismiss my work quickly, telling me that they think it is social commentary or genre painting; but then they start to look at it, they start to see all the elements that are at play and the many different levels on which the painting is operating, and they see that it is not as simple as it first appeared. Then the painting opens up for them. So that is the first thing I ask- for people to take time and look at the paintings, because hopefully once they start looking, they will see what is there."
Well, yes and no. As the result of prolonged examination of the work yes one comes to appreciate its complexity and design; the often intricate geometry and patterning. Like a Piero, we may state that the paintings of Stevovich may be regarded as having elements that are "abstract." Of course that is a notion which would have been unfamiliar to the Renaissance master. It was only with the emergence of abstraction as we know it in the 20th century that we retrofit that approach to the sublime and precise compositions of Piero. They allow us to speculate that there were reasons why he presented to us all those perfectly serene but psychologically neutral faces. It is never enticing to read the expressions emotionally. Rather we come to the meaning of these exquisite paintings by a kind of totaling of their elements particularly the articulation of space and the nuances of composition. Contemporary art historians have taken to deconstructing them with t squares and triangles the better to study and understand their geometric subtleties. The fact that the figures are devoid of dramatic gestures is also something of a modernist trope like ersatz characters in a pictorial setting taken from a production of "Waiting for Godot."
So the paintings of Stevovich may be argued to convey notions of the Theatre of the Absurd with their slowing down of real time and space or as illustrations for the existential writings of Albert Camus. The artist should one day illustrate "The Stranger." These notions are prompted by the interpretation that the characters in the artist's illustrated actions appear to be emotionally removed from what is taking place.
While the settings and agendas of the individual paintings are nuanced and complex his generic approach to the faces, which are entirely interchangeable and modular no matter how charged the setting, proves to be enervating. There is a numbing sameness to studying an in depth selection of the works. We find ourselves forced to follow his instruction to enjoy "the many levels on which the painting is operating."
But might not the same be said of the spectrum of artists mentioned at the beginning of this essay? Surely there are similarly enigmatic responses in contemplating a Seurat, or even puzzling the gaze of a Gauguin woman. Just what is she thinking? If you read the artist's journal "Noa Noa" we learn that he was as mystified by them as we are. So the images by artists like Hopper, the Sawyers, Tooker, Barnet and others is conveying a kind of enigma. But in deriving those formulaic faces and their emptied but sly expressions Stevovivch has, for me, also emptied the narratives of their potential for mystery and prolonged contemplation.
That is not to deny their broad appeal. I do, however, retain the right to ask just how they relate to the issues and aesthetics of our time. It is ok for artists to continue to create representational narrative paintings. There is also a mandate to upgrade and contemporize the work and anchor it to what is happening around us. In that regard I find this body of work oddly anachronistic. The works of Stevovich just don't speak to my own issues, concerns and life experiences. Many others, obviously, feel differently.
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