In its latest group show, Artists' House Gallery presents work of several dozen artists working in the still life genre. They offer up a slew of variations on the theme, ranging from simple examinations of form to poetic meditations on the nature of things, most often via whimsical and surprising visual juxtapositions.
In its own way, the show attempts to restore to the still life its former glory as a type of philosophical painting in which allegories of the transitory nature of life and the brevity of that time-worn phrase, "the peak of perfection," assailed wealthy patrons from gilded frames. In more recent times, this philosophical underpinning was lost, and the still life became merely an academic exercise.
It still works supremely well as a vehicle for examining forms in space, and there's no shortage of floral and fruit-in-bowls pieces in this show. But you'll also find Robert Sampson's studies of garage interiors— no bowls of fruit in evidence there. Dan Miller even offers "still life" pieces that are actually woodcarvings.
"Beyond the Ordinary Still Life" is a fun sort of show with a few dazzlers to give it some heft. Aurelia Burnham's Monitor is a witty image-in-an-image-in-an-image piece that reminded me a bit of Hitchcock's Rear Window— another lesson on looking and composing.
Elena Peteva's Studies for Empire, I and II offers a witty comment on the vanity of imperial dreams, while Ted Papoulas's Still Life with Ketchup takes the traditional approach and applies it to a less-than-traditional subject.
Gregory Halili's Dead Crab is rendered approximately life-sized and with an intensity of detail that's both exacting and effective.
If you make it to the rear gallery, you'll be rewarded by Mark H. Brown's Fabric, whose rippling subject matter and electric colors are rendered so skillfully that the work almost appears to be three-dimensional.
Finally, a wonderfully enigmatic piece by Frances Donnelly Wolf, The Health of the Eye, plays so fast and loose with the notion of a traditional still life that even those Dutch masters of old would be impressed.
This is a show that's well worth exploring.♦
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