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Posts by Peter Neofotis

Zachary Mason’s Upon Reflection

by Peter Neofotis on February 14th, 2016

West Village, NYC, courtesy of Zachary Mason, www.ocrazyshaman.com.

Upon Reflection, Zachary Mason’s first New York City solo show, is the aptly named
photographic travelogue currently showing at the Decoy Workspace through January
20, 2016. Most striking is a nude self-portrait set in Central Park at night, framed by a
jogging path beside the Onassis Reservoir, an arching tree in the foreground creating its
sense of depth. An incandescent city looms in the background, reflected in the lake.
Mason redirects the viewer’s attention from cityscape to his eerie physical beauty,
capturing the wildness in him. Tall, trim, but muscled, the 26-year old artist has the
carriage of satyr.

As we see him leaning on the fence surrounding the water reflecting the city, he is a
young man at odds with the city. He is embracing it, yet is simultaneously totally out of
place. The victory over the commercialized metropolis, nonetheless, is his.
Enormously triumphant, the image if of a young man embracing Central Park while
completely ignoring decorum in a city populated by millions. His distinctive youthful
hopefulness, born of another, less tame locale, is unabashed.

Mason pays tribute to 1950’s photographer Vivian Maier throughout the show. Maier
created a series of self- portraits in black and white, most of which incorporated her
reflection, be it in a mirror at a yard sale or the glass window of a train car, to great critic
acclaim. Borrowing many of the same techniques, Mason brings them into a modern
world, in color.

There is a sense that we are witnessing a young artist whose gifted eye is becoming
aligned with an enlighted mind. All of the images in this show use reflection, some of
which, like those of Lincoln Center, a building in Soho, and one of the Mumbai Airport
demonstrate great appreciation for the line and architectural design. There are
numerous stunning landscapes including a star-filled night sky behind mountains
reflected in a lake in Moab, Utah and a skyline of Manhattan at dusk reflected in the
Onassis Reservoir. Viewers not be personally connected to these landscapes might
experience little emotional connection to them.

Mr. Mason’s work engages viewers most is when he takes his lead from Maier,
capturing the world with his reflection in it. There we see a young photographer at a
point of change, in an ever-changing world, striving to find a place for his being. We see
this in the wonderful image taken from behind a bus driver in Sir Lanka, the viewer
sharing his view point as he looks at himself in a rear view mirror and through the
dashboard window to a world that seems so far away but promises adventure to; a very
sophisticated image of a man sitting by himself in a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan,
taken through the store’s glass reflecting women strolling down the street; and paying
homage to Maier again, where the artist holds a camera as he takes a shot through
glass in the West Village. We see the colorful city reflected there, women and men
going about their busy lives, ivy growing up a red brick wall, and the photographer
finding his focus as he begins to see how he connects with others in the world.

Zachary Mason’s Upon Reflection opened at Decoy Workspace, a part-gallery, part-workshop hosting weekly events for the border-community intersection of the Upper East Side and East Harlem. It’s located on 1261 Park Ave; New York, NY 10029. The show run January 7, 2016-January 20, 2016.

Edited by Gabriella Radujko

Cy Gavin’s Overture by Peter Neofotis

by Peter Neofotis on July 20th, 2015

One of the shortcomings of figurative art, across time, is that it fails to convey the true meaning of a moment because of its sheer literalism. This failure is most easily understood in photography, where the photograph supposedly captures a slice of life. The moment captured by the photographer, however,  is not at all like the actual experience of the person captured in the photograph.

For starters, we cannot see ourselves with exactitude as the very act of capturing the moment distorts our memory with the photographer’s vantage point. Also,  everything is frozen in time. The exactness of the image, then, gives a false sense that all meaning is captured, when in reality, it is just beginning. This dilemma, as represented in the human experience of trauma, is beautifully addressed in Cy Gavin’s solo show Overture, which opened to a packed, exuberant crowd on July 15th at Sargent’s Daughters.

Gavin’s paintings overtly or inadvertently the redemptive reconciliation that follows trauma. The exclusive subject of his paintings is black figures, usually men, in horrifying predicaments. The show’s signature work, Spittal Pond, Bermuda, depicts two black legs, the last glimpses of a man buried alive perhaps, coming out of a stunning, surreal landscape. Another untitled image is of a dark figure in a beautiful polar landscape, his black, curly hair having grown into an enormous boulder that pins him prone against the frozen land.

The images capture the experience of racial, sexual, or other human suffering.  The significance of the moment is not fully realized at the moment it happens.  Rather, it occurs weeks, months or even years afterwards, usually upon reflection or through dreams. Haunted by the event, the subject comes closer to a realization of its meaning and what it continues to mean in relation to one’s new experiences over time. Thus, the landscape of the change is not just as it was. It becomes surreal–part of the present and the past, the literal and the imaginary– a fluctuating setting that blends the impressionistic with the fantastic.

What makes these paintings about trauma so beautiful? The beauty lies in the bravery that comes with the determination to “never forget”.  Furthermore, only by reflecting on the moment in which our lives were inexorably changed, can we actually come to terms with what happened and move forward. The self is ripped in two, but upon reflection, the part left at the site of the crime is merely the shadow self. Indeed, despite the disturbing elements, the images evoke peacefulness. We realize that what we see is only the shadow.

According to Thoreau, “every man casts a shadow; not his body only, but his imperfectly mingled spirit”. Gavin’s deep black figures, painted using a combination of tattoo ink, acrylic and oil, are Thoreau’s shadows, reconciling fate.

Upon Reflection

by Peter Neofotis on September 19th, 2012

Untitled (Self-Portrait), 2006-12 © Sally Mann courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

In the past, Sally Mann, named America’s best photographer (Time Magazine, 2001), has chosen young girls (At Twelve), her three children (Immediate Family), The South and Civil War Battlefields (Deep South and Last Measure), decaying human bodies (What Remains), and her husband (Proud Flesh) as her subjects. But in Upon Reflection, she has at long last turned her camera toward herself.  The results are eerie, beautiful, horrifying and brave. Continue Reading More »

A Marvelous, Ordinary World

by Peter Neofotis on June 4th, 2010

At first, I wasn’t sure why I thought of the nineteenth century painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema as I viewed the opening reception of Philippe Vasseur at Axelle Galerie in Chelsea. For both in terms of style and content the artists differ enormously. Alma-Tadema, of course, depicted with mythical clarity and discipline, scenes of grandeur and repose of the classical Roman Empire. Philippe Vasseur, on the other hand, with impressionistic freedom, displays humble views of a more everyday world.

But both, it seems, follow one rule with their painting: they succeed in creating sublime grace with scenes that are not dominated by natural landscapes. Instead, their works focus on settings created or woven with the lives of humans and portray a potential for beauty.

That beauty is not without its eeriness. Just as darkness lurks behind the stories in Alma-Tadema’s paintings (i.e., who could forget, those lovely roses petals in the Roses of Heliogabalus actually smother people), a certain melancholy haunts Vasseur’s works. Cafe bleu – which is nothing short of mesmerizing in both its depth, glow, and color – depicts a loneliness as all the patrons in the room sit alone at their tables. One hopes that they are able to appreciate the peace that exists in that moment of time.

Vasseur’s melancholy is one we can live with. Indeed, it makes his flashes of experience and light in life (often that come combined with the most unassuming seconds) so much more appreciated.

Vasseur is, fortunately, not alone in his successful style of merging impressionism with a strong awareness of physiological depth. Axelle Fine Arts Gallerie hosts other such fine artists. Also, recently, I reviewed a work by the elusive Jerilyn Jurinek who displayed similar skill. These artists and their galleries should be commended for their vision of art that respects classical traditions, while at the same time enables the development of work that is wondrous and new.

And Philippe Vasseur succeeds marvelously at creating awe in this show. His work is grand in that it evokes in awareness that life can be so extraordinary beautiful, yet at the same time these moments are not of a past time or society that we cannot attain. Though they are mythical, they are real: two men in silence in a room at sunset (Sans titre); an old weathered boat on a grey beach (Epave); a man sitting on the ground near a hound dog (Sur le trottoir). These are not the false legends which Alma-Tadema teased us with, but scenes of life that we live. And – though they may be without opulence – these “ordinary” times of our lives are filled with sensational beauty. We just have to make a choice in opening our awareness. And Vasseur inspires us to awaken our souls to the delicacies of our simple human world.

Philippe Vasseur is on view from June 3 – July 3, 2010 at Axelle Fine Arts

The New York Society of Women Artists

by Peter Neofotis on February 10th, 2010

The New York Society of Women Artists
The Meaning of the Line Exhibition
February 8-28, 2010 @ The Broom Street Gallery

Some Serious Ladies Show Their Works

In a artistic climate in which one walks into “hip” contemporary art galleries often feeling that they have encountered “civilization at the end of its tether,” it is refreshing to find a group show in which the participants are not only able speak to the current times, but also display technical skill. The New York Society of Woman Artists’ The Meaning of the Line which opened February 8th and runs through the 28th at the lovely Broom Street Gallery contains some such wonderfully inspired works. And as a whole this ensemble should be commended for veering away from the sensational, and displaying sometimes humble, sometimes quiet works which hold a great power and resonance.

There are the deceptively simple acrylic paintings of Gloria Schar, whose Cooling and Reds and Purple have a Rothko style, but instead of using the swaths of color as imposing forefronts, she casts the colors as seeming shadows to some home in our memory. And Tina Rohrer’s uncanny Accent Aqua III and Blue/Green Progression are series of green shades checkerboards that elude both to the modern world of computer mapping and code, yet create a mirage of natural landscapes. One might also spend some time contemplating Lea Weinberg’s love-filled bronze’s Whereto and Attachment. The two human sculptures are evocative of geological formations, formed by a miraculous wind or water.

Another very worthy composition is that of Diana Freedman-Shea, whose Dusk: Long Island City Winter uses almost translucent oil paint and sometimes even just-outlined figures to capture the feeling of those shortest of days. Despite her dreamy hues and strokes, the painting carries a deep reality; so that it is almost like an old photograph. Inviting you to walk into it, the painting gives one the gift of solace even in a dreary, winter day.

And one should not leave the show without spending a considerable time contemplating the profound work of Jerilyn Jurinek, whose oil Crossing the Delaware River is a profound multi-dimensional work that first gives almost geometric surface impressions, but upon time becomes deep and expansive human and environmental landscape in the viewer’s gaze. Indeed, once the painting amazingly becomes three dimensional, one is able then to understand that the colorful shapes are indeed figures on a terrifying, yet hopeful journey across a deep cold river. On one side is a silhouetted figure that almost floats over the canvas, and it is balanced on the other side by a seemingly distant moon. The painting is a daring work – a robust hybrid of abstract power and well crafted figures – combined to produce a scene filled with beauty and cathartic pain.

Crossing the Delaware River

Peter Neofotis
New York
February 8, 2010