From Mike: George is back this week and I love the theme. Still Life. We all can relate to that after going through this past Winter and Spring. Take it away George Rogers.
In this strange summer of 2020 I thought it would be interesting to consider an art form that’s almost a metaphor for the times – the still life. Through the centuries, each generation of artists has interpreted the still life in new ways, moving it beyond the Old Masters’ heaping piles of fruits and flowers. Today the galleries of Provincetown are full of work in this long tradition. Here are four that I think are particularly compelling.
Curtis Speer, Myth of Freedom (pigment on cotton rag, 24” x 36”), Cusp Gallery
In this work, Curtis Speer employs all the visual elements of a traditional Old Master still life – soft light falls on a butterfly and a peach perched on a crystal goblet. Yet this piece is undeniably contemporary. The inverted goblet, spare composition, and contrast of intense orange and brilliant blue against a black void all give the work an edge. There’s an added air of mystery created by the artist’s printing and mounting techniques. The velvety surface of the piece draws you in – to the naked eye it’s almost impossible to know if this is a painting or a photograph, and there’s no glass to create visual interference. All in all, it’s as supremely elegant as any Old Master but very much the expression of a 21st century artist’s singular vision.
Stanley Bielen, Spring Mix (oil on panel, 5” x 6.5”), Rice Pollack Gallery
Stanley Bielen’s lushly painted still lives flirt with the abstract. This vase of flowers contains no recognizable blooms, and the vase could be fine porcelain or a tin can. The bold composition would work on an enormous scale, yet this is a tiny gem of a painting. Light and shadow are picked out with thick dabs of paint that give surprising weight to the vase, anchoring it in a silvery void. Although it brings to mind Manet’s late flower paintings, this work is absolutely contemporary. And the artist has succeeded in making a commonplace subject uniquely his own.
Sydney Bella Sparrow, Bobbins of Magenta and Plum (oil on linen on panel, 7” x 7”), Bowersock Gallery
Aside from the subject matter, this painting could have come from the studio of any 17th century Northern European painter. The objects are bathed in a gentle light against a dark void and depicted with exquisite care. But it is these objects – casually placed spools of thread – that give the work a sense of bravado. It’s as if the artist is saying: “look at me, I can just grab a couple of spools of thread and create the most gorgeous, flawless painting you’ve ever seen.” And honestly, looking at one of Sparrow’s paintings up close there’s a kind of magic, a suspension of belief, because you just can’t imagine how she does it. Which gives it something else in common with the Old Masters – timeless appeal.
Kevin Cyr, Cutter (oil on panel, 16” x 24”), Alden Gallery
You could call this painting a portrait because anyone who ever sat for an artist would be thrilled to have one’s character so lovingly captured in two dimensions. Yet a truck is an object so I’m going to claim it as a still life. And here the artist has presented this mud-splattered workhorse as an object as precious as a Fabergé egg. All distractions have been cleared away. There’s no trace of a landscape and an undetermined light source bathes the subject in an ethereal glow. Creating beauty and interest out of the rough and the mundane requires an eye, which when combined with the technical skill of this artist makes a piece of art you’ll never tire of.
George Rogers is an artist and ceramicist. After a career in museums including the MFA in Boston and the Smithsonian, he and his husband moved to Provincetown full time three years ago.