Portraits of the artists

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I was looking at two shows of painters with fine academic technique–Tina Newberry at Schmidt-Dean Gallery and Christopher Gallego at Seraphin (left, Newberry’s “Help (the badge),” 10 1/2″ x 11″).

I’m not so interested in the differences in how they apply paint–Gallego’s brush work is juicier and freer, Newberry’s nearly invisible. But its the other decisions that make these two bodies of work stand in relief from eachother.

What you get from Gallego are mostly literal views, sometimes surprisingly large canvases of the objects in his studio, beautifully painted.

The choice of a pair of rubber gloves, hanging over the edge of a surface still-life style, seems like a self-portrait, as does a large canvas portrait of a bag of plaster. There’s not much other information in these paintings, just light and texture captured. Mainly superb painterly technique and draughtsmanship hold your attention (image right, “Bag of Plaster,” 26 1/4″ x 20″; image left below, “Rubber Gloves,” 8 3/4″ x 12″) .

I found these more recent paintings of single objects of greater interest than Gallego’s ambitious earlier ones that were filled with the details of his studio, beautiful though they were. I’m hoping this (barely) metaphorical approach means that he’s on his way to being more than a mere recorder of what he sees.

In contrast, Newberry’s canvases are small in size–20 inches is a large dimension for this show. The content is specific to herself and her life, but not so specific that the rest of us can’t relate or find our way in.

She’s unsparing toward herself, her shoulders slightly droopy, her hair pulled tight, her eyes sliding to the side for a peek (at herself in the mirror or at some intruder in her space). She dresses herself in costumes to poke fun at her own character flaws–the paintings are called names like “Self-Appointment” , and “Li’l Rebel” and “Li’l Officer.” And she’s angrier than a hornet, posing herself in front of bullet-pierced target papers, or fondling a wooden gun, or wielding a wooden dagger (right, weilding a wooden dagger in “L’il Rebel,” 20″ x 15 1/2″) .

Some of the portraits are more icon-like, in others Newberry places herself, sometimes in multiples, in studio and home. You might not know what triggered a painting, but you get that she is regarding herself as a difficult, even dangerous creature at the same time that she is mocking her own intensity (left, the icon-like “Self-Appointment,” 12″ x 12″).

In contrast to painter Bo Bartlett (see post), another realist who plays with metaphor and hews to the Academy tradition, Newberry avoids overweaning size, the cocky claim to sing the song of America. Instead, she paints herself as Napoleon or George Washington, hand stuck in her jacket, but she’s got on plaid shorts, and her bare legs and feet, fail at attaining the look of a conqueror. By sticking to humor, Newberry takes the kinds of metaphors that sometimes sink Bartlett and shows how, with a little honesty, they really can work (right, “Li’l Officer,” 20″ x 12″) .

What I like about these portraits, with their old-masters colors and technique, are the modernity that humor and a little post-modern irony confer.

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