Walter Robinson (b. 1950) took the subject of this painting, Baron Sinister (1986) from a cover illustration for a mass-market paperback, one of many low-end sources he raided in search of seductive consumerist imagery. The book’s protagonist — a secret agent — and his damsel-in-distress appear in a dramatic, suspenseful close-up, which Robinson has rendered in a hyper-expressive style. By making the figures larger than life, the artist exaggerates their idealized youth, attractiveness and heroism. Removed from their original context, and painted on an ordinary, floral-patterned bed sheet, the couple is transformed from cliche to archetype, as Robinson explores traditional notions of romance in the context of mass consumerism.
Photographed as Part of Fast Forward: Painting From The 1980s at the Whitney Museum of Americana Art, on Exhibit Through May 14th, 2017.
In Jonas Wood’s (b, 1977) paintings, he often uses intricate decorative patterning to render ordinary objects that hold personal resonance for him. Some of the pots depicted in Night Bloom Still Life (2015) were make by Wood’s wife, Shio Kusaka. Thus, the painting is just as much a self, or family, portrait as it is a still life. “You could call it a visual diary or even a personal history,” the artist has said. This everyday quality, accentuated by flat planes of color and uniform detail, makes the spatial ambiguities in Wood’s work — such as the impossible perspective of the table — all the more disorienting.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC.
In the 1920s, Charles Demuth (1883 – 1935) painted a remarkable series of “Poster Portraits” depicting friends and fellow artists. Rather than capturing a physical likeness, these works conveyed the subject’s character through arrangements of commonplace objects rendered in the crisp style of advertisements. While Demuth did not include a self-portrait in the series, My Egypt (1927), produced during the same period, suggests a parallel effort to distill his personal and artistic concerns in symbolic terms. This depiction of a newly built grain elevator in the artist’s native Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the apex of his quest to develop a dynamic geometric style that would herald America’s industrial prowess. By titling the painting My Egypt, Demuth equates the grain elevator with the ancient pyramids, but he also invites a more poignant, intimate reading. When he made this work, Demuth was confined by debilitating illness to his home in Lancaster. Calling the image his Egypt links his hometown to the Biblical narrative of Egypt as a site of involuntary bondage.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
This painting captures the professional milieu of Richard Rodgers, the composer who co-wrote, with Oscar Hammerstein, a string of blockbuster Broadway musicals, including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music. Howard Kanovitz based New Yorkers I (1965) on a newspaper photograph. He explained, “I was impressed by a certain quality of low definition which suggested an isolation of the figures from their environment.” The resulting painting suggests that the creative class pictured here in their jackets and ties embody New York as surely as the cityscape in the background.
The “Work Reconsidered” in the title is John Wilde’s own drawing. This painting from 1950 is based on a “bridal” portrait that Wilde had made of his wife, Helen, in 1943. Its exacting realism and compressed perspective, as well as the subject’s pose and inscrutable expression, recall the Northern and Italian Renaissance portraits that inspired Wilde. He added surrealist details to these traditions: the butterflies on the woman’s body and head, the isolated food items on the table, and the moody landscape background create and otherworldly effect.
By photographing the interior scene depicted in Missing Children (Captiva) (1988) at eye level and printing the image at life scale, JoAnn Verburg provides a point of entry for the viewer: one can easily imagine sitting at this table. At first glance, the work depicts a cheerful, everyday moment; yet the milk carton’s images and descriptions of missing children inject the dangers of the world outside into the intimate setting. Verburg explains that the photograph involves “putting a lyrical, private moment together with difficulty — the political, public side of life.”
Allan D’Arcangelo’s portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her young daughter Caroline adopts the bold style of modern advertising, epitomized by the broad areas of bright, unmodulated color. The image trades on the Kennedy’s brand status and visual legibility: its sitters are recognizable merely by virtue of their signature hairstyles and clothing, as well as Jackie’s string of pearls. Made just months before President Kennedy’s assassination1963,Madonna and Child’s take on an age-old religious theme is at once optimistic and disquieting. With their bright halos and featureless faces, Jackie and Caroline appear as contemporary icons and saviors even as they are reduced to mute images for public consumption.