Zen and the self-revelator

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Our mutual friend, painter Marjorie Grigonis, called me recently all a-twitter. She had just seen our (also) mutual friend Leo Robinson’s “Zen Portraits” at Moore College (in the connector hall).

“They’re quirky and offbeat,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything like them.” she said.

“[Leo] said that they are the moments when people understand…not that life’s insane or that the gods are insane but…a moment of recognition.” she said.

OK, I’m in.

Robinson’s portraits (up through Dec.) are tiny works (some as small as 4″ x 6″). They number 12 and basically seem to portray the same person (himself, perhaps) caught posing as if onstage in a moment of self-revelation. The works, water media on paper, are supple and convey, with great economy of means, the unsteadiness of self, the masks we slip into so easily. (image top and above right are two from the series)

Robinson, who teaches in the Illustration Dept. at Moore College, takes liberties with the body — growing shoulders to mountainous proportions, painting lips an unreal, ruby red, and all that works on a metaphorical level, creating a character whose questions about himself are reflected in questions about his body.

The nicest thing about this suite of work is the earnest, confused, bemused, befuddled, embarrassed and highly un-ironic faces. Vulnerable and wise, the faces like those in all good portraits, let you glimpse yourself.

Psychic portraiture like this, so unlike that of the ponderous Eric Fischl, say, who beats you over the head with his points, is a breath of fresh air.

A contemporary counterpart– I’m thinking of her watercolor drawings — is Kara Walker, whose impulse to caricature in ways that can be savage or not, seems descended from earlier practitioners like Honore Daumier. (image above left is Walker’s “Negress Notes” 1996; image right is Daumier’s “Trois avocats causant”)

By the way, Marjorie G is an abstract painter and member of Third St. Gallery. You can see some of her work in the gallery’s current holiday show.

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