REVIEW: Still Life Untethered

Brian McClear | Five Points Gallery Review

Life is Never Still

By Tracy O’Shaughnessy | The Republican American
A review of Still Life — Untethered at Five Points Gallery in Torrington CT
Published: January 30th, 2018

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Still life should never be completely still.

A good still life should simmer with an emotional intensity, bristle with the power of suggestion.

The new exhibition of still lifes at Five Points Gallery includes artists who do that, although the overall presentation is mixed.

In its attempt to broaden the definition of still lifes, the gallery has so stretched the genre as to be almost unrecognizable as such.

It nevertheless has puckishly assembled a group of 15 artists who play with classic definitions of still life with results that range from commendable to clever.

The 15 artists represent the classic techniques of the still life — drawing, painting, and photography — as well as contemporary methods, including sculpture, ceramics, found materials and interactive installation.

In the latter category, Eric Forstmann’s “Movable Breakfast” encourages viewers to participate in assembling a puzzlelike sculpture that includes pieces of a breakfast table. The assemblage juts out from the wall like a shelf on which sit a variety of items — a box of Froot Loops, orange juice, fruit — that sit in slots that allow them to be rearranged.

Forstmann is a skilled trompe l’oeil artist, known for his precise iterations of apples, pears, tomatoes, even wrinkled shirts. This is a different sort of riff for him and brings a frisky edge to this traditionally sober genre. Viewers can move the butter, cantaloupe, mugs and muffins into different “still life” arrangements.

In that same vein, Peggy Dembicer’s painstakingly precise images of Red Rose Tea and cigarettes are sprightly takes on familiar themes. Her “Light’n Up” appears to be a trompe l’oeil painting of a package of Marlboros. Come closer and it’s clear that the “painting” is actually bead work tapestry, accented by a series of strings that hold matches. Below sits a ceramic ashtray, complete with a pack of matches and a cigarette— also fashioned of colored beads.

Dembicer does much the same with “My Cup of Tea,” a beaded tapestry of a carton of Red Rose Tea, surrounded by a field of tea tags, assembled like an array of stamps around the central beaded image. It’s a delightful riff that throws the viewer off balance.

But there are more standard still lifes here, as well, including Brian McClear’s inspired paintings of hardware tools, some of which look anthropomorphic in his images, and others of which are just wonderful juxtapositions.

An apple that unfurls its skin toward a glistening plane is artfully done, while a soldierly looking pair of bolt cutters, standing sentry in front of a slice of barbed wire, draws uncomfortable associations. Below the bolt cutters McClear has painted a folded American flag. The image is called “Welcome Home,” and suggests a perilous form of self-enclosure.

Other artists, like Linda Pearlman Karlsberg, are more traditional but symbolic in their still lifes. Karlsberg’s image “Bound Bird,” a drawing of a songbird tethered to a bolt by a strap, is a powerful depiction of strength and fragility, freedom and confinement.

Lastly, Nancy Lasar’s free-flowing pastel canvases might be poorly identified as still life, but it really doesn’t matter. Lasar continues to explore relationships between line and space, gymnastic glyphs and severe geometries, with economy and ingenuity. Her swirling graphite dances with her graceful pastel colors to create compositionally enchanting canvases.

Lasar has always been judicious in her placement of firm objects — mugs, pitchers, vases — with more organic forms — insects, flowers, plants — but she’s grown even more economical in her paintings, letting the canvas make a statement of its own. Her large “Strings and Things,” an image of coiling, serpentine flowers lunging out of their vessels toward a free-spirited, delicately charged atmosphere, is a restrained statement on the pleasures of abandonment within the confines of rootedness.

Still life? No, Lasar seems to answer. Life is never still.

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