Female form as subjective experience
By David C. Farmer
Special to The Advertiser
By David C. Farmer
Art history and critical writing are often as full of jargon and clubby language as legal briefs.
As Glenn O'Brien observed in an early '90s article in ArtForum magazine, art criticism was beginning to look like legalese written by lawyers.
But writing about art should be for the wider community, not an inner circle, expanding the layman's understanding of art.
As with legal writing, however, some art jargon carries with it specific meanings that would otherwise take many words to express. Take "figurative art." What's up with this fancy $25 phrase?
Since the arrival of abstract art, the term has been defined as any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world, particularly to the human figure.
Picasso, after about 1920, is the great example of modern figurative painting. Post-World War II figurative art stars include Edward Hopper, Lucian Freud, very early Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn.
It's clear that figurative art is still a potent way to express the deep human experiences and feelings in the exhibition now at Kapi'olani Community College's Koa Gallery, superbly designed and illuminated by David Behlke.
Chuck Davis' technically skillful oils, acrylics and graphite works on linen and canvas reveal a love affair with the nude female form.
Invoking a tradition that flows from fetish figures to religious icons to pin-up girls, Davis aspires to create images that evoke an emotional response.
He dedicates his work to his mostly nude models — silent partners who collaborate in a sensual, mystical process.
Rashmi — one of his more famous subjects, who also modeled for the American Realist Philip Pearlstein — is the subject of two distinctive oils.
"Rashmi" — an especially bold oil on canvas — conveys its subject with only the barest side glimpse of her face against a vast expanse of empty canvas, a dangling blue earring simultaneously pulling attention to itself and serving as a telling expression of his subject's proud, utterly feminine personality.
"Lucy" — a graphite-and-acrylic work on canvas with a monochrome economy of the very briefest suggestion of form — is a bravura display of design in the service of delicate feminine sensibility and sensuality.
"Giuliana" also takes risks with its subject, a woman, with an immense white eye, in profile against an expanse of dark space. The disquieting portrait is truer than a photograph.
A contemporary nude channels the ancient Hindu earth goddess in "Durga." She languidly basks in the prime of her fertile power, ready to subdue, nurture and replenish.
Allen Stamper, while also working with the female nude in the figurative style, handles paint in a less precise, freer manner that suggests more of a hot-jazz sensibility in contrast to Davis' — what? — cooler new-age music.
His poignant three-canvas portrait suite, dedicated to the memory of a friend who took her life, gives insight to a relationship, an accomplishment worthy of the best of the German Expressionists, such as Max Beckmann.
In Stamper's portraits, paint is applied with energetic accuracy so as to look both improvised and calculated, while the soul of each subject is illuminated with uncanny precision.
" 'The Crash' Heather" tells us not only about the looks and demeanor of an attractive young woman with a Modigliani neck, but also speaks of the artists' keen observation and feelings toward her.
"(R) Study of an Artist," which greets the visitor at the entrance to the show, communicates a mature artist's strength and dignified vision.
"S" conveys all the lovely insouciance that only the young can afford. "Stepping Out" is a beguiling image of a young lady, made up almost like a kabuki actor, seductively breaking free of the social constraints of mind-forged manacles.
In Stamper's works, you can see what he describes as "snapshots of little occurrences that mark me in some way."
It's been said that the artist expresses not what his eyes see but only what he subjectively experiences.
Stamper's work grapples eloquently and confidently with his inner life, and it is in this dimension that the work speaks to our inner feelings.
Franz Kline, who started out as a figurative painter before turning to abstract expressionism, said it best: "The final test of a painting, theirs, mine, any other, is: Does the painter's emotion come across?"
In this Koa Gallery exhibition — with the works of two similar yet individual artists — the test is brilliantly and authentically met.
David C. Farmer holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and drawing and a master's in Asian and Pacific art history from the University of Hawai'i- Manoa.