Contemporary Portraiture at the Burchfield Penney
Face to face
Joseph Radoccia’s Jim Weber uses acrylic and pencil. Radoccia has five large-format works in the show.
Photo courtesy of the Burchfield Penney Art Center
through June 2
At the Burchfield Penney Art Museum, 1300 Elmwood Avenue
As they enter this show, viewers are welcomed by a monitor featuring Cristiano F Lopes Pereira’s video portrait of Robotiká. It’s one of a series of Pintosas; each features a gay man the artist interviewed while painting his portrait. The show moves quickly into more traditional media, with charcoal-on-canvas works by Henry Schmidt, but it isn’t a shocking juxtaposition. Both Schmidt’s paintings and Pereira’s video are thoughtful, sensitive explorations. It’s just that Pereira’s depiction includes the spoken words of the subject.
Video helps, but it isn’t necessary to capture the personality beyond the façade. That can happen with media as simple as charcoal or pencil, as demonstrated by Schmidt and by Joseph Radoccia, whose large acrylic/pencil portraits are subtle, intimate, and revealing. As Radoccia remarks in his artist statement, “Little by little, facets of their personality begin to emerge that no amount of conversation could ever unveil.” The humanism that shines forth from Radoccia’s portraits is amplified even further in lush, oil-on-canvas portraits by Julia Bottoms. In a previous review of this artist, Spree critic Bruce Adams observed that her subjects are rendered “in a highly detailed classical style that conveys their gentle temperament.” Adams is also included in this show; his wood panels feature a vertical series of realistic tableaux; they are less portraits than dramatic strips of film noir, with his subjects taking a variety of lively postures. As in much of Adams’s work, there is a tongue-in-cheek aura hanging over the whole enterprise, with the painter and his subjects conveying implicit winks.
PATRICK FORAN’S FOREBODINGLY OVERSIZED CHARCOAL ON PAPER HEADS DENY RATHER THAN REVEAL HUMANITY.
A few others in the show use depiction as a take-off point to explore other concepts. For example, a pair of Tricia Butski’s large charcoal works on paper, Suppose and Semblance deliberately obscure a female face with dark areas and layers of what looks like cracked, watery glass. Butski’s venture into half-abstraction reflects just as much on depiction of human psychology. Nothing could be more realistic than the startling mask-covered and helmet-covered heads rendered in charcoal by Patrick Foran, but the realism is itself a façade, obscuring any attempt to find meaning in the monolithic cultural archetypes Foran has rendered. Some may find these scary; they probably should.
A side room is devoted to Gary L. Wolfe’s portraits of nude subjects who have been asked to demonstrate their awareness of the viewer’s gaze. In these vulnerable depictions, humanism is again at work, though somewhat undercut by a dark, gridded background, which is there to support a planned digital experience of these artworks.
Though rendered mainly in sepia and grayscale, John Baker’s portraits of historic figures from organized baseball’s Negro Leagues—whose talents have only recently been widely recognized—are warm depictions of triumph over adversity. Similarly, Edreys Wajed’s deceptively casual drawings of his own face and Richard Prior’s are energetic showstoppers.
Jack Edson’s quited portrait of painter Edgar Degas
And there are even more portraits, by artists Barbara Hart, John Opera, Patti Ambrogi, and Jack Edson. Edson’s quilted likenesses deserve more discussion than is possible here. There is also a huge ensemble of fabric panels by Chuck Tingely that descends in a layered waterfall from ceiling to floor, adding even more exuberance—if not portraiture—to this ambitious survey.
Combined, all the artists in this show make a powerful case for Western New York’s rich contemporary art scene. It is a generous, welcoming, and—often—paradigm-shattering look at the act of portrayal.