Three shows change your outlook
The trio of current exhibitions at Portrait Society Gallery, taken together, ruminate on the intersections of art and everyday life and draw from past and present via painting, video and photography.
Milwaukee-based artist Jean Roberts Guequierre offers an intriguing group of Renaissance-styled pieces, in Giotto’s Eyes. The title pays tribute to the Florentine artist, Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267-1337), a pivot point between the mystical sensibilities of the European medieval mind and the humanistic freshness of the Renaissance. He painted religious scenes as though they were happening before you. His three-dimensional people rejected ethereal weightlessness and obeyed earthly rules of heft, mass and vision. To do this required an insistence on tangibility, an eye for experience fused with art.
Guequierre’s work feels more akin to the Northern Renaissance in the mode of dress and demeanor of her figures, who inhabit a cool, sombre climate. If you’re familiar with Giotto’s famous work in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, and in the Basilica of San Francisco in Assisi, you’ll note how she quotes and responds to his fresco cycles of some seven centuries earlier.
Guequierre handles paint meticulously. The surfaces are luminous and her lines distinct — strong as spider webs and as artfully placed. The rich chiaroscuro, or use of light and shadow to create volume, is overlayed with tiny skeins of hatch marks. Drawing never seems far from the paintings, figuratively speaking — and literally speaking, as the show includes a selection of drawings. In these images, her lines are so certain and precise that from a distance they almost appear to be engravings. Guequierre’s figures are not self-consciously beautiful, and many have a gentle awkwardness in their physique. But there is no question that they are beautifully rendered.
Every Day draws on another strand of inspiration from Giotto. We typically don’t feel that we wander the earth each day in a haze of aesthetic pleasure, but maybe we should. The 13 artists and photographers who contributed to Every Day agreed to shoot photos during the course of one day as they went about their usual business. They edited these images into personal bodies of work, with some stunning results..
They magnify the microcosm of details that make up the ordinary world with brilliant color, as in Robert Smith’s luminous blue rope against a warm minimalist haze. Jon Horvath works in stillness and light, creating a hush, a pause, as we ponder a cylinder of tonality and texture. It’s a toilet roll on the edge of a bathtub, but it becomes something different here. Other photographers capture images of the city around us, the workplace, and see great beauty in the mundane.
These exhibitions remain on view through Jan. 14, 2012. Portrait Society Gallery is in the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St., 5th Floor.