Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Contemplating the figure: two approaches

Kehler Liddell Gallery
873 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 389-9555
Presence: Paintings by Deirdre Schiffer & Lawrence Morelli
Through June 27, 2010

Two different painters, two different ways of considering the figure. Both Lawrence Morelli and Deirdre Schiffer—sharing a show at Kehler Liddell Gallery—contemplate the human form. But their approaches, while overlapping, diverge substantively in their psychological impact.

For Morelli, figure portraiture is a vehicle for aggressive mark making. Whether it's his large oil paintings or charcoal head and shoulders portraits, Morelli seeks not so much to represent his model as to deconstruct her as a field of light and dark, using a constrained color palette. His brush seeks out a rainbow of grays, occasionally tinted with blues, magenta, camouflage green.

These paintings might pass for pure abstraction were it not for his depiction of his models' faces. Still, these depictions remind me of sculptural portraiture, as though the paint is daubs of clay roughly applied. There is an interesting tension in Morelli's work between the stillness of the poses and the freneticism of his brush strokes.

Schiffer, too, for the most part, is not invested in the verisimilitude of rendering facial features. (Exceptions include a couple of monotype self-portraits and the fantastic "Portrait with Winter Hat.") But unlike Morelli, Schiffer is quite concerned with the particulars of form, a naturalism in the way her subject occupies space and absorbs and reflects light.

Her "Woman with Fan," "Figure" and "Swimmers" series read on the one hand as paint sketches. On further inspection, however, they reveal a studied subtlety in their suppleness. In a small work like "Woman in conversation," Schiffer captures a fluid grace in the slight tilt of the woman's head and in the way her right hand bends at the wrist and the fingers curl in. This fluidity of the figure is matched by the subtle yet effective use of color. The woman in the picture appears to be listening as intently as Schiffer is looking.

Not all of Schiffer's works are figurative. On one wall a series of five monotypes with gouache depict different views of a "Children's Room." Of these, "Children's Room With Table No. 4" is particularly affecting in the way Schiffer captures the sense of natural daylight coloring an interior space.

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