Carl Plansky (1951-2009)
Last weekend, a week before the close of his exhibition at the New York Studio School, Carl Planksy died of a heart attack while driving to his home in upstate New York. Planksy was best known for his painterly, expressionistic landscapes and still lifes worked from life in exuberant brushstrokes and rich colors. His show at the School, however, where he had studied and also taught, marked something of a departure. In giant portraits of operatic divas his style extended into highly personal subject matter. The portrait of Joan Mitchell, the one art world diva among this show of opera stars and the earliest painting on view, was painted from the corner of his eye, surreptitiously, in the Abstract Expressionist’s Paris studio. A portrait of Aprile Millo, now in that singer’s private collection, was worked from photographic sources, which was rare for him. (The legendary soprano is slated to sing at Plansky’s memorial at the School this Sunday.) For the rest of the portraits, however, Plansky was bizarrely true to his commitment to working from life – even though the singers were not accessible to him. For some he used models as stand-ins, in combination with historic reference materials. Eleanor Steber is posed by the late Grace Hartigan and Maria Callas, in mutliple portraits, by a former student of Plansky’s named Ülgen Semerci. Using a Turk to portray a Greek prepares the viewer for the boundary crossing of his Monserrat Caballé and Anita Cerquetti portrayals: for these legends of the operatic stage the burly, bearded Plansky self-enlisted as the stand-in, shaving and draping himself in curtains. It was a gesture that befits a man whose every move in art and life was fearless in its quest for fullness of truth.