Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Competition winners show together at Fraser

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Courtesy of the Matthew Klos
Finding beauty and structure in ordinary places, Matthew Klos’ ‘‘Watched Pot” shows a simple kitchen interior, but with sophisticated color and compositional devices.
During the past five years, the two regional juried art competitions established by philanthropist Carol Trawick have produced varied results — some laudable and some just mystifying. Now viewers can see the recent work of the top winners of both the Trawick Prize and the Bethesda Painting Award exhibited together at Fraser Gallery.

Richard Cleaver, winner of the first Trawick Prize in 2003, is represented by a single work. ‘‘Cadet” is a small ceramic figure of a tuba-playing cadet standing on a base around which two dogs are inexplicably draped. A third is positioned as though flying across his torso. His head includes a hinged mask, which opened, reveals a tiny pencil portrait, presumably representing a real cadet. Gold leaf, fresh water pearls and oil paint enliven the whole.

There’s nothing to fault here, except that the piece, with its faintly surreal iconography and luxury materials, looks pretty much like every other Cleaver figure. In the end, the substance is missing. It’s a gimmick, appealing and with a certain allure, but a gimmick all the same.

Tony Shore, 2006 Bethesda Painting Award winner, continues to paint in oil on black velvet, and his subject matter, while similar, is both more narrative and more interesting. His large format ‘‘Booper’s Table,” which seems to have sources in 17th century Dutch tavern pictures, or even in Caravaggio, with its dark interior space, is updated to reference the meeting places of the forgotten lower strata of Middle America. The uncomfortable narrative in ‘‘Date” is especially strong, and in ‘‘Steak and Onions,” one can almost smell the cooking odors overlaying a cluttered room’s dank atmosphere. The black velvet supports become all the more poignant in these works, speaking as they do of the very lowbrow.

Interiors of a different kind, connoting a distinctly more middle class environment, are the subject of 2007 winner Matthew Klos. The large sunny painting that was the focus of last year’s show is replaced here by much darker works with deeper, more saturated colors painted in oil on wood panel. The same emphasis on the telling domestic detail, and a slightly looser technique recall the simple interiors of Vuillard, whose sensitivity to the nuances of meaning in such subjects Klos shares.

‘‘Watched Pot,” the largest in this exhibit, is a good example of Klos’ approach. In a slightly inclined view, a narrow stovetop closely nudges the side of a refrigerator adorned with notes and pictures clipped to its door with magnets. A large pink flower hangs on its side. Almost in the center, its bright color bridges the space between a spot of pink in the front burner and the pinkish tones of a wedding photo on the refrigerator door. A happy domesticity reigns here. As frequently in Klos’ pictures it feels like the middle of the night, and the watched pot is apparently the saucepan that, as in the proverb, is taking its time to boil. The low light of this private moment reveals all the homely things in this kitchen: supermarket spices with bright red tops staring out of a small wooden shelf propped against the wall and a bright green houseplant somehow luxuriant above the refrigerator. Implied lines and color correspondences unify the composition by creating a clearly discernable and sophisticated surface pattern on the picture plane.

Nearby, a group of four very small Klos panels take this sensibility down to the simplest format. With titles like ‘‘Evening Dishes,” ‘‘Window Ledge” and ‘‘Night Kitchen,” they bring the very ordinary to a level of extraordinary painterly effect.

Since winning the first Bethesda Painting Award in 2005, Joe Kabriel’s work has evolved considerably. Three years ago, his paintings showed ‘‘un-still still lifes,” with objects appearing to move around in illusory space and odd perspective views of landscape and interiors with autobiographical content.

More recently, Kabriel has turned to rocks as his primary subject. These emblems of endurance and entropy emerged from a landscape context into works that function on an abstract level despite their strongly realist drawing style. Many of these paintings show the artist continuing to manipulate formal relations in pictorial space, the perception of which varies with the viewer’s position. In the works exhibited here, Kabriel has moved further along this trajectory, using multiple canvasses and media to create a single image.

Kabriel’s ‘‘Lack of Syncopation,” an oil, charcoal and colored pencil on five canvasses linked together, explores the tension between these media: the black and white of the charcoal areas with the colored canvas in the center. It’s as though we were peering over the surface of these exquisitely detailed rocks through water, and then were suddenly above it. This sense of layering or change of focus invites meditation on the magic of illusion in painting. ‘‘Walking on my Pink Cloud,” a 49-inch square also composed of five canvases, reverses the usual top to bottom orientation by focusing attention on the lowest section. Rocks on a pinkish ground are painted in oil; the rest is rendered in colored pencil, graphite and charcoal. At its edge, the toes of a left foot begin to ‘‘walk” into the painted space. As the ground shifts to gray toward the top right, and the detail or focus also diminishes, we realize we are following the artist’s gaze along the ground in a dizzying game of altered expectations. To Cézanne’s famous attempt to record the experience of seeing with two eyes, as opposed to the one assumed in traditional perspective, Kabriel adds the element of seeing in motion.