Cityscapes, Whimsy and Bloomsbury, Too
Ron Milewicz at George Billis Gallery; Babar at Mary Ryan Gallery; the Bloomsbury group and some others at Davis and Langdale.
YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHAT CITYSCAPES LOOK LIKE until you view them through Ron Milewicz’s eyes. I can’t walk down a treeless street in Long Island City on a hot day without seeing it bleached by the flash of yellow light that envelopes “Citiwide, Summer” (2004). The color scheme of “Citiwide, South” (2004) is true to the heated intensity of urban life, a fidelity that points beyond verisimilitude. In August, nothing is more credible than deep-shadowed buildings in fuschia that pulse against torrid orange skies.
|"Citiwide, South" by Ron Milewicz
Mr. Milewicz’s urban panoramas, on exhibition at George Billis Gallery, are real to the extent that each maps a recognizable site. (He moves his studio around to gain access to fresh views.) But color is totally expressive, built primarily on a disciplined binary system of near-complements or analogous pairs. It is a striking approach that can veer into the decorative occasionally. But at their best, Mr. Milewicz’s rebellious color schemes, freed from naturalism, take us very far east of Eden. They startle and unsettle, evoking the diabolism of the city rather than the rationality of urban planners.
Field of vision is equally pregnant. Exaggerated lateral perspective places subtle emphasis on the tilt of the earth. Urban geometries of steel, stone and concrete, poised on the curve of a spinning globe, are less stable than they appear. The city, where human works displace other signs of human life, is ultimately as transient as its invisible inhabitants.
“Citiwide, Late Afternoon” (2005), close to 11 feet long, is physically imposing and psychologically unnerving. Blues and yellows—an acidic lemon plus a deep cadmium that stops short of orange—combine to cast a sulfurous tinge over a city that dominates man and nature. The Manhattan skyline fills the distance, a solitary fortress encircled by the sweep of elevated train tracks. Grating tonalities raise this no-man’s-land to the level of myth, reminding us that the first builder of cities was Cain, acting in response to divine curse. Urban predicament is as old as Babel.
Recent paintings develop this mythic dimension with several figural references to Laocoon, Icarus and other tales from the Greeks. But unconvincing figuration distracts from Mr. Milewicz’s achievement . The abrupt literalism of his reliance on superhero dolls as models narrows the significance of his customary pictorial power.
We can live without the North American gallery system but who could survive in a world where elephants didn’t fly their tots around the globe on Elephant One? How could we put our own children to bed without the sweet reality of shared make-believe?
|"Babar's World Tour"
by Laurent de Brunhoff
On view at Mary Ryan Gallery are the camera-ready illustrations for Laurent de Brunhoff’s latest book, “Babar’s World Tour.” Actual drawings, compared to printed reproductions, have an indefinable fizz. Laurent de Brunhoff’s are lively and intelligent, crisply marking forms and gestures. Included in this delightful exhibition are preparatory drawings, gouaches and watercolors for published stories dating back to 1947 when Laurent continued the Babar legacy created by his father Jean in 1931. Especially appealing are Mr. Laurent’s preliminary pencil drawings, cursive testaments to the natural grace of his hand. The range of spirited articulation broadens in samplings of older work where formal qualities charm to the same degree as the subject. It is hard to say which is more engaging, the fluid watercolor renderings of “Babar’s Museum of Art” or the pleasure of seeing our own world reflected back to us by culture-savvy elephants who give parties in the Temple of Dendur.
Particularly delicious is Babar’s meditative visit to a Japanese stone garden. Why not? We spend our lives looking for elephants in the lotus position; we just phrase the search in more adult-sounding terms. And one glimpse of Babar at the North Pole gazing en famille at a pachydermatous iceberg makes clear the laugh is on us.
Say what your want about the hothouse vanities of the Bloomsbury group. The insouciance of their painting and various decorative projects is still a pleasure to see. This show of 35 works at Davis & Langdale has only one more week to go. It would be a shame to miss it.
The Bloomsbury set exulted in the minor key, insisting that even commonplace objects—a window surround, cabinet doors, a bed frame—offered opportunities for aesthetic play. Sensitive to the oxymoron at the heart of mass manufacture, they were as likely to paint their dinner plates or curtains as make a painting. To some, that marks them as dilettantes; to me, it is one redeeming charm.
The tone of the exhibition is casual, as if items on view had been conceived waiting for the boeuf en daube to come up from the kitchen. Drawings predominate: sketches for rugs, tiles and chairs; theater costume and wallpaper designs; pencil portraits and lively book illustrations mainly by Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant. Pottery by Quentin Bell, Vanessa’s son, is included as are works by artists outside the Omega Workshop: delicate gouaches by Gwen John and Charles Gere; a deft study of a cart horse from Robert Bevan’s sketch book; a quick music hall scene by Walter Sickert. A beautifully modeled mother and child represents Henry Lamb, official war artist in two world wars and associated with the Camden group as well.
Many small delights are here. The only false note is the inclusion of scarves and designs by Cressida Bell, daughter of Quentin. Bloomsbury was already over when Cressida was born in 1959. Her presence simply extends the name into a brand.
“Ron Milewicz: Recent Paintings” at George Billis Gallery (511 West 25th Street, 212-645-2621).
“Laurent de Brunhoff: Babar’s World Tour” at Mary Ryan Gallery (24 West 57th Street, 212-397-0669).
“Bloomsbury and Other Modern British Works” at Davis & Langdale Company (231 East 60th Street, 212-838-0333).
This review first
appeared in The New York Sun, October 6, 2005.
Copyright 2005 Maureen Mullarkey