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Return to Realism Classical techniques of 'Fifteen Santa Fe Artists' fill LVAM

In creating a new exhibit for the Las Vegas Art Museum, Santa Fe, N.M., James Mann sent an inquiry to Santa Fe art galleries. It included a "six-part rationale" that coincided with Mann's theory of a new movement "afoot" in the art world. Not only did Mann want "excellent," relatively unknown artists, but artists who have "clear originality in resurrecting visual art from its post-modem grave."

Dismantlement, he said,is over. Artists are not only returning to realism, they're "redeploying lost resources ... in novel ways." When few gallery owners responded to the inquiry, Mann broke into a circle of "dissident" Santa Fe artists to get the work he wanted. The result is a curious exhibit of serious work that invokes a "Haven't I been here before?" response.

Historically, you think you know where you are, yet everything is different. Michael Wright's landscape "Portsmouth Marsh" is reminiscent of Edvard Munch. Frederick Spencer's portraits and landscapes hearken to Italian renaissance and early Christian art. Moreover, Dennis Flynn's "Nude in Bath," a remake of Pierre Bonnard's "The Bath," is an amalgam of Bonnard's original figure and Flynn's own models (which is why we see the nipple rings and a tattoo). Flynn's "Olympia" is a compromise between Manet's "Olympia" and Gauguin's "Spirit of the Dead Watching." "They all have recognizable elements," Mann said as he observed "Fifteen Santa Fe Artists," an exhibit that fills the museum's main gallery. "

The traditional elements are used not merely as retrograde, but in recovering the lost resources." Furthermore, Mann asserted, "I was looking for artists that I think are advanced for this day. The full deconstruction has been complete and each one of these is doing something to go forward? What's more is that the artists break the stereotype that Santa Fe's art community is limited to commercial landscapes and accessible Southwestern images. The Southwestern imagery that does seep into the work is not in the way we're used to seeing it. Jerry West, who grew up in Same Fe, incorporates apocalyptic themes into his oil-on-canvas paintings set amid desert landscaping. Trevor Lucero's vibrantly and whimsical oil-and pastel landscapes present scribbled, yet cohesive, scenes that are a contrast to Joel Greene's orderly cubist landscapes.

In referring to "Arrival," a portrait by Same Fe artist Jack Sinclair, which hearkens to a Giorgio de Chiricho, Mann said, "Inevitably local color works its way into what is an internationally sophisticated composition." What Mann seems to appreciate most in the exhibit is how the new work incorporates influences prior to postmodernism. "Alter minimalism, the most advanced art gave up painting and sculpture," Mann said. "The dematerialization movement, conceptual, installation, performances. Those are the accepted vanguard. What I show here purports to go beyond that. "You can't keep deconstructing."

If Mann is correct, such artists as Geoffrey Laurence, whose large-scale oil-on-canvas paintings that use classical technique and modern settings, finally might have an interested audience. As an artist trained in painting, photography and printmaking, Laurence has devoted decades to representing the figure in life drawing and in painting. But in England in the 1970s, he said he couldn't get his work, mostly nudes, shown. Considering himself an "emotionalist" rather than a realist, Laurence creates contemporary narratives that reference classical paintings to aid in telling the story. "What I find fascinating is the power in classical painting," Laurence said via telephone from his studio in Santa Fe. But, he said, "There's no point in doing (only) what artists in the 15th and 16th century did. An artist cannot be out of his time." Some of Laurence's topics, such as a tired man facing the mirror in "The Reckoning Point," are timeless. But "Hold Fast," a 78-by-74-inch oil on canvas, is Laurence's response to the looting of the Baghdad Museum. "I was just appalled that soldiers just stood by and allowed people to loot," Laurence said. The painting depicts a soldier shown in three different states of emotion, one where he is ready for war, another when he's in a state of shock and a third when he's experiencing shame. Behind the soldiers is a reference to Peter Paul Rubens' "Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus." Laurence's painting "Promenade" catches a tired (and seemingly drunk) young woman still in her prom dress and white gloves seated alter the prom. A classical painting hangs behind her. In this, Laurence said he tried to capture what a young woman at that age experiences. "She's reaching the age of sexual power, toying with men but at the same time, she's a little girl," Laurence said. "The allegory behind her is intense and very sexual."

Varying technique, other work in the exhibit includes John Basiste's egg tempera paintings of the Seven Cardinal Virtues, Paulette Frankl's acrylic landscapes, Whitman Johnson's oil paintings, David Mauldin's renditions of inanimate objects and scenes at the gym, a rental car agency and gas station, Mark Spencer's grainy surrealist works and Jody Sunshine's abstracts and interior scenes. The work of West Berlin-born Zara Kriegstein incorporates German expressionism and the styles of Mexican muralists. Kriegstein, known for her politically charged work, has been featured at the Las Vegas Art Museum before, including two of her Holocaust pieces, which are on display in the current exhibit. Also included are Kriegstein's four studies for "The Judicial History of Santa Fe" murals. Created for the city of Santa Fe's municipal court building, the murals depict law during the pre-colonial, colonial, territorial and contemporary periods of New Mexico and use real events and players.

Spencer's paintings show the artist's influences - Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio), to name a few. His "King of the Hill," a tree trunk amid a golden, romantic landscape, is his take on Hudson River School painters. Most of the classical references in his work have been unintentional, he said. This includes "The Bison Madonna," a painting that shows a haloed Madonna holding a bison. "I sort of see her as the coming together with the beast and the holiness within it," said Spencer, a professional musician a rhythm- and-blues band. But that came after the fact." Flynn's mixing of past and present is more intentional. He spent 18 months on a Bonnard series, in which he created his own interpretation of Bonnard's work. Other pieces, such as Flynn's Venus," which is taken from Botticelli's idea of the perfect woman, is a pop-art depiction of women using models taken from magazine clippings. "Reggae artists don't care where their sources come from, they take a pop song from the US and make it their own," Flynn said. "I'm doing something similar as an artist. "I'm not working absolutely contemporary. I'm not working absolutely original. Few people do." Flynn says he's noticed a return to realist or figurative art in the last 10 years.

This and Mann's self-described radical theory of the new art movement just might appease painters such as Laurence. "I hope Jim (Mann) is right," Laurence said. "I hope we're seeing the end of a period and the beginning of a new period."



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