David Miretsky’s Allegory of Painting

March 18th, 2012  |  Published in *, March 2012

David Miretsky, Man Who Can See Only Horizontally, oil on panel, 3 3/4” x 5”

David Miretsky immigrated to the United Sates in 1975 after being jailed for the satirical and naturalistic content of his paintings in Kiev. Miretsky made Cincinnati his home and Phyllis Weston presented his first solo show at The Closson Gallery downtown. Miretsky is still tackling tough subjects these days, as a biting but often humorous battle of the sexes plays out across his show at Phyllis Weston gallery this month.

Miretsky makes darkly humorous genre paintings that use the tension between men and women as an allegory for the artist’s own profession. As a visual medium, painting is all about the look and feel of things. In Miretsky’s work, women embody this world of appearances. Women steal the show. It is clear that they fascinate Miretsky because he is at his most daring and sensitive when he depicts them. Take the stunning painting “Putting on Lipstick”. Every shape and color in this painting is an original invention. The main color dialogue pits  purple against green. This is risky as these two colors are notoriously hard to handle. Either one could be warm or cool. In this piece, the women wears a cool purple that sets off her chevron of golden hair, and she inhabits a glowing atmosphere of warm pea soup green. Her red lips and lipstick meet in a bright triangle that sizzles against the green room. On the small slice of table in front of her, a low cylindrical container and jewelry box glitter a fiery orange. They continue the precedent set by her mouth. The far right corner of this tiny  circular painting makes it clear that she is looking in a mirror. This painting depicts a woman superficially concerned with her image. The intensity of the color serves to focus the satire.

In contrast, Miretsky’s men are painted gently, with more muted colors, as they blandly stare at their phosphorescent wives, escorts and dates, or quietly fall asleep. It would seem that Miretsky is making a statement about man’s lack of power in the presence of women. Yet after repeated viewings a strange thing happens. The men become more and more interesting. Their lack of inertia and quiet presence are symptomatic of a life of rumination. The women steal the “show”, but the men are thinking about other things. This is a wonderful narrative choice as it draws attention to the contemplative life of the artist as the creator of these brightly colored and melodramatic scenes.

In “Sleep of a Laboring Man”, a man slumbers in a soft haze of azure, tired from a day of hard work and unaware that his mate is fully awake, blooming in the center of the canvas as
she reaches for her lover who waits at the window on a stepladder. This scene makes for great storytelling, and Miretsky takes full visual advantage painting the calligraphic arc of the bedspread, the lover’s shirt, and the woman’s head band all the same raucous orange. This orange triangle exists as one kinetic zone that excludes the blue smudge of the sleeping husband. Yet with sleep comes dreams, and paintings are certainly close to dreams.

Miretsky seems to be saying that the artist must exist in, and be removed from the world at the same time. The distant introspective men in Miretsky’s paintings are reminders of what is needed for an artist to re-imagine the world. Dynamic visual orchestration requires quiet contemplation and inner vision. The men in Miretsky’s paintings are both actors in a scene of gentle unrest between men and women, and an allegory of art making. In the small soft painting “Self Portrait with Muse”, an artist offers his naked bride his palette and brushes instead of his sex. She appraises him coolly, but he has made his statement.

Miretsky’s images also brim with art historical references, creating a layered story that satisfies the academic. In “Sleep of a Laboring Man” the woman mimics the pose of the women from the famous Fontainebleau school painting of 1595 “Gabrielle d’Etres and one of Her Sisters in the Bath” that hangs in the Louvre. Interestingly this painting is also about infidelity. Elsewhere, in the tiny painting “Cure”, Miretsky presents a portrait of the artist as physically disabled and engaged in some kind of symbolic act. A cripple puts money into a hand extended from a hole in a wall. Out of the same wall water pours into his mouth quenching his thirst. The water runs onto the ground or is he urinating? And an eager dog rushes in to lap it up. This scene is reminiscent of Peter Brueghel’s moralizing painting “The Beggars” from 1568 also in the Louvre. Both Miretsky and Brueghel before him paint the absurd side of the human condition with a precision and care that elicits a serious response.

The show “Uniquely Ukraine” also features the paintings of Svetlana Derenchuck, whose works pale in comparison to Miretsky’s.

–Emil Robinson

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