DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       Spring 2003  

 

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Paul Georges: The Posthumous Series

Salander O'Reilly Galleries
20 East 79 Street, New York

March 4- March 29, 2003

by JOEL SILVERSTEIN

Paul Georges My Posthumous Series: Muses Dancing in Volcano Shadow 2001
oil on linen, 80 x 106 inches, Courtesy Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York


Jaunty and headstrong as always, Georges dubbed this last group of works, The Posthumous Series just before his death. A kind of pre-post game show, the exhibition offers a rare opportunity to evaluate this artist in light of his successes, failures and ultimate goals. A student of Hans Hofmann, Georges sought to reconcile the Push- Pull theories of the Abstract Expressionists within a figurative format, linking the great masters of the Western canon to Modernist concerns. His nervous energy freely mixed landscape, still life, portrait and allegorical history genres with a nutty logic noted by those raised on postmodern juxtaposition. Yet his pictorial inventiveness, lush surfaces and bravura brushwork endear him to traditionalists as well.

In Muses Dancing in Volcano Shadow, 2001 the artist depicts a Poussinesque cluster of young women in a Vesuvian landscape. The flames of the volcano create coloristic parallels with masses of pure exposed vermillion in the foreground. George's always flaunted horizon lines and gravity. Angel at the Skylight, 2001 presents simultaneous views of both the aged artist and his symbolic muse, a female model floating above.

These works always maintain a curious dichotomy. Their full-bodied red underpainting recalls, but essentially heightens, Venetian studio practice. This coupled with a high key imposto insures glaring chroma at the edge of hyper-saturation. At their best, the works adhere to the abstract tensions familiar to Hofmann, yet equally to the content and gestures of modern figurative artists, like Balthus or Kitaj.

When less successful, Georges may be slap-dash, uncontrolled or mawkish, the purveyor of lost opportunities in a series of Grand Manner applications. But the last twenty years brought a ripening and fruition of the artist's unique talents and ambitions. This Exhibition retains buoyancy, youth and conviction barely known to his generation and a directness of emotion, certainly unknown to ours. In the show's signature piece, Painting in the Studio, 2001, the aged artist is signified by a grayed gesticulation of paint flanked by planes of acidic yellow-orange and mauve. Flowers and fruits articulated by a series of staccato marks glow from within. Bringing to mind the late portraits of Bonnard, Georges evokes a brittle melancholy despite all the color candy. The work's fluid brio coupled with a charming adolescent klutziness puts Georges in a class by himself. Clearly, he offers much to our beleaguered contemporary souls on the reading and restructuring of the personal and artistic past. Despite all his heroic posturing, his example demonstrates that the expressive act is finally and irrevocably linked to a state of vulnerability.

Joel Silverstein is a freelance critic and curator. His exhibition, Inscription and Effacement: Contemporary Painting and the Jewish Imagination, co-curated with Richard McBee, will open February 2004 at Yeshiva University, New York.