Tibor deNagy Gallery
724 Fifth Avenue
New York City
212 262 5050
October 4 to November 10, 2007
In Phillip Geiger’s painting “A Different Shirt” of 2006, on display at Tibor deNagy, we look beyond a tabletop display of deliciousness, cake, sunflowers, etc to a young woman, her head turned completely away from the viewer, enigmatically gazing into empty rooms. There’s a forthright richness in the color and fatty pigment, and even a kind of lustiness in the painterly rythms used to describe such privacy.
In an essay written for “Human Measures,” a 2005 show about painterly realism at the University of Indiana, Philip Geiger described his attitude towards making paintings: “Intuitive seems to be the right word. I stop thinking… and try to let intensity carry the painting.”
Intuitive and discreetly sensual they are, depicting a tastefully domestic world of spare interiors and attractive people. The intensity is achieved by pearly light revealed through rich, spontaneously painterly surfaces.
Though a graduate of Yale, Geiger is a southerner and thus something of an outsider in New York. His unapolegetically appealing paintings are unfashionably about his concept of ideal beauty. He is a contemporary intimist in the tradition of Vermeer, Corot, Vuillard and more recently, Fairfield Porter, to whom he is often compared. Porter is different however, in his explicit desire to depict and even exploit the details of his life with his family and eminent circle of friends whose identities are specifically identified in an open way.
In fact, Porter’s inclusion of modern celebrity culture into traditional figurative paintings reflects an urban sensibility, and is an important part of the appeal of his works.
Geiger will have none of that. He is a poet of domesticity and sublimation and is always faultlessly discreet toward his subjects. That the specific interior depicted in most of the paintings — a sparsely furnished, turn-of-the-20th-century dining room and parlor — is the artist’s own home is only indicated by its repeated presence in much of his work since the early nineties. These sunlit spaces on modestly scaled canvases and boards are a setting for casually elegant twenty-somethings engaged in intimate domestic interactions.
Habitually, many have their backs to the viewer, prompting us to speculate that just as we are invited into Geiger’s domestic space we are also seeing a window into the actuality of Gieger’s family drama. He maintains, however, that the models are paid.
The titles sometimes seem to be intended as pointers to some sort of drama, such as “Locked House” (2007), a scene lit by artificial light orchestrated in reds and oranges which an older girl and two teens seem united in tension. In another, a young woman with her back to us, daisies on the white table beyond, is called, mysteriously, “Favorite Words” (2006), and an asymmetrical composition of a sleeping girl is called “Remembered Color”(2006).
“I do not intend narrative in my work though people have found it there,” he has said, and that though the subject is important to him, it represents “a moment of life in the world found, not set up. I feel they come from the intensity of looking and forming.”
And also it seems, from the artist’s natural politesse.