SIMILITUDE: A survey of contemporary portraiture

March 3rd, 2019  |  Published in Winter 2019

Dreams, dragons and confrontation with contemporary overtones–

“Similitude” is an exhibit of current portraiture work by contemporary, largely regional, artists at the Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati.

Self Portrait with Purple Dragon by Paul Loehle – oil on panel, 2018

Paul Loehle’s large oil on panel is entitled “Self Portrait with Purple Dragon”.  A split segment of Loehle’s head with single wide open eye forms the foundation of a tower of dream imagery.  A bare-chested child with a bowl-cut hairstyle and heavy rimmed glasses presides as the Harry Potter version of self, absorbed in the glare of an unseen computer screen.  A multitude of disembodied eyes populate ominously in the dark recesses of the imaginative child’s dragon cape, a manifestation of menace. This strongly evoked dreamlike element of the artist as a child prefigures the highly emotive adult character, circumventing traditional portraiture as reliance on facial elements alone.

One interesting work is the depiction of a floating head without any field or backstory.

DAR by Todd Fife – graphite, charcoal, white pencil and resin, 2018

“DAR” by Todd Fife is a graphite, charcoal drawing resin bound to a 1/2″ wood cutout.

Drawn as viewed from an adult height and disconnected from any additional information, the larger than life head of a dark haired, double braided little girl flashes a wickedly snarky grin. It is a onesided projection of a child as mischievousness personified.

Phrygian II by Jordan Morgan – graphite on paper, 2018

Jordan Morgan shows “Phrygian II”. Phrygia is an ancient region in west central Asia Minor that reached the peak of its power under King Midas. This graphite drawing depicts the head only of a dark skinned mature male with broad and generous features. He wears a distinctive soft, conical cap that is identified with the liberty cap. The distressed surface both defines and spacialises the form.

Additional examples of overlarge portraits report that the intimidational version of hyper realism is alive and well. “Grettel” by Alberto Carol has an unapologetic stare, disconcerting at more than 3X a normal proportion. Here too, little is revealed about the person portrayed though the painting includes costuming and background. Despite the direct eye contact with the viewer, the portrait aspect of the work is inaccessible and inscrutable.

A 4′ square 1926 “Peace Dollar” by Tana Tapson projects the profile of Lady Liberty, arrayed with a sunbeam tiara. Disfiguring nicks and marring that are the result of the assault of circulation, is painstakingly painted and evidenced everywhere on her continence.

“Emily”, an oil painting by Derek Wilkinson glares disapprovingly from the 24″ x 24″ format.

With bulging eyes, pinched brow and down turned mouth, this full frontal bust extends no access, reasonability or justification to the viewer in a confrontational shutout.

Pareidolia by Nina Ulett, oil on panel, 2016

Dreamlike qualities pervade both works by Nina Ulett. “Pareidolia” depicts the seated female nude who dares to look at the sun through her fingers as a spectacular cloud pattern unfolds both in and around her. This work may lend itself to a symbolic interpretation, fusing dynamic conditions in nature with aspirant womanhood.

Resting by Michael McCaffrey, oil on canvas, 2018

The largest, brushiest work is by Michael McCaffrey, an oil painting entitled “Resting”.

The 30×40″ canvas shows a closely cropped image of a sleeping bed-bound old man. The dirty palette color is literally spackeled onto the surface. The broad planes of the form realized in heavy impasto and the search for “unbeauty” are elements reminiscent of the late works of Lucian Freud.

There are also 2 black and white photos by Tina Gutierrez.  I enjoyed “Fanchon”, a three quarter portrait of an older woman dressed in black. Her face in profile to the left, she poses with hands grasping opposite shoulders forming a heart-like shape. Gnarled claw-like fingers and forearms darkened and spotted with age inform the photograph with dignified beauty.

There are multiple additional works that expand this conversation, making this exhibition very enjoyable.

–Marlene Steele

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