Thursday, January 27, 2011

Physiognomies Electric

Physiognomies Electric

By Tom Wachunas

“I do, indeed, close my door at times and surrender myself to a book, but only because I can open the door again and see a human face looking at me.” – Martin Buber –

“A man finds room in the few square inches of his face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson –

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”
- Lauren Bacall –

For centuries, exposing the human condition has been a recurring subject in art – all the arts, certainly. In two-dimensional art, many artists have left us dark, sobering pictures of our inexhaustible propensity for hating and hurting each other. Others of course have delighted in skewering less threatening rituals and conventions of human behavior. Social commentary. Satire. Art with comedic bite.

Throughout the past eight or nine years, I’ve been impressed by the prolific output of Judi Krew the painter. She has settled into a distinctive, accessible pictorial language somewhere between affected realism and elaborate comic strip styling, and her subject matter is predominantly a sardonic woman’s-eye-view of women-eye-views of… life. Depicting scenes of the faux pas and foibles of contemporary social manners and habits, with an unabashedly bright palette, those paintings still seem a bit too light-weight and formulaic to me. As pure painting goes, I don’t see them as particularly visionary. Then again, Krew’s acrylic paintings are essentially caricatures, and they certainly do have a quirky if not endearing life of their own. And beneath their humor and dazzling hues is a sure-handed compositional mastery, along with considerably refined drawing skills.

Those qualities, then, of engaging composition (a face can be a vast terrain of varied shapes to arrange) and fluid drawing are, among others, front and center in her pastel portraits. There are 23 of them in her current show, called “Fascinating Faces from Interesting Places,” at Studio M in The Massillon Museum. The overall spirit of this exhibit is of a surrounding, vibrant conviviality. It’s not that all the faces rendered here suggest bouncy camaraderie so much as they collectively conjure the warmth that can come with encountering a diverse group of magnetic individuals.

Krew clearly enjoys observing people. Working from photographs she takes on the sly, her drawings manage to preserve a sense of candidness while expanding on the formal nuances that make up intriguing human countenances. For all of their “sketchiness,” accomplished via intricate overlays of gestural lines in variegated colors that practically crackle - there’s a crowd in every face - the drawings nonetheless have a sculpted dimensionality and spontaneity that lets them pop off the picture plane in a big way. Compared to the tight caricature approach of her satirical acrylic paintings, these pastel works exhibit a loose kind of naturalism. And beyond their astutely observed and translated physical expressions – a delightfully wild array of them - the visages vibrate with credible personality.

“Canton Jazz Festival,” for example, embodies all the impromptu verve and joviality you’d expect from a communal celebration of music. It’s a gleeful rendering, and I could almost hear a big melody being sung by the clearly energetic singer who nearly explodes from the picture plane. For that matter, you might call this whole show an electrifying song of many verses, each about the scintillating depths of expression in the human face.

Photo, courtesy Judi Krew: “Canton Jazz Festival,” pastel, on view in Studio M through February 20 at the Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon. Gallery hours Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. SUGGESTION – call ahead to confirm your visiting time, as sometimes private meetings are booked into Studio M (aka The Silk Room)…(330) 833 – 4061

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