It's been a couple of years since Fort Myers last enjoyed an exhibition of nude artworks. But daas Gallery's Skin 2011 was a celebration of the nude and erotic in art. By contrast, the Alliance's Exposed: Face and Figure exhibition focuses not on skin, but the diverse ways by which artists couple portraiture and figurative work to express something about their subject's attitude, personality or character. Which explains why capturing the essence of a person on paper or canvas or in metal or stone has been cherished by collectors and art lovers through the ages, and why the Mona Lisa, The Scream and Girl with a Pearl Earring are counted among the world's most beloved paintings.
Exposed contains work by 35 of Southwest Florida's most accomplished artists. Many, like Darryl Pottorf, Lawrence Voytek and Marcus Jansen, are internationally-acclaimed. But one of the most captivating works in the exhibition is Arturo Samaniego's Defiance.
The painting's title is gratuitous. Everything about this composition shouts defiance, from the set of the subject's jaw to the tilt of her head and the way she juts a shoulder forward to underscore her prideful resolve not to bend to the will of the unfortunate man who's being skewered by the darts emanating from her chocolate brown eyes. For all that, though, it's the purse of the subject's lips that entrances the viewer. A' la Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Samaniego understands that a subject is at their most expressive the instant before they speak. And it's not difficult at all for the viewer to imagine what's about to come tumbling out of this woman's mouth.
While the talking portrait is a powerful storytelling technique, there are clearly times when words are completely unnecessary, As Doug Heslep's Seduction adroitly depicts, a woman's splayed fingers, slightly flared nostrils and sultry, half-shuttered eyes signal to her partner that she is about to surrender to the passion welling up from inside.
Before he picks up his camera, Heslep talks to his model for ten or fifteen minutes, noticing how she sits, turns her head, smiles and responds. He allows her bearing, posture, gestures, mannerisms and subtle movements to dictate the poses he suggests for the camera. He is not alone in this approach. All accomplished portrait artists gather information and build relationships with their subjects so that they can not only convey the essence of their subject, but their own impressions, individual style and technique as well. And it's easy to see the end result of this process in works like Carol Broman's Seated Figure, Cesar Aguilera's Pony Tail and Geoffrey Hamel's Brigette.
Two of Exposed's artists bring to the exhibition a wholly unique slant on the century-old genre of portraiture. One is Jonathan Kane, who layers textures such as cracked paint, peeling boat bottoms and acid-washed concrete over his figures to create intrigue, mystery and dramatic effect. "I don't want to be doing something that vaguely reminds me of something that's been done before," Jon often proclaims, channelling his inner Jerry Uelsmann. "Digital is still a brand new medium. Imagine if oil painting had only been developed 15 years ago. That's where we are today with digitial."
Kane's sentiment is echoed by Marcus Jansen. Although Jansen is best known for his post-apocalyptic dystopian urban landscapes, he decided about eighteen months ago to venture into the genre of portraiture. But like Kane, he couldn't stand doing something staid or stale.
Whereas traditional portraiture focuses upon a visual depiction of the subject (such as the Mona Lisa or Henry VIII), Jansen’s brand of portraiture is premised upon the supremacy of the painter’s artistic feeling about the subject. So in his Faceless series, Jansen has created a macabre metaphorical gallery of the faceless corporate power brokers who make decisions that affect our world behind the anonymity of corporate board rooms – whether on Wall Street or somewhere else in the world of business or politics. And in the tradition of Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich, Jansen expresses his internal reaction through basic geometric forms such as circles, squares, lines and rectangles painted in a limited range of monochromatic colors.
Each work on display at the Alliance has its own special story to relate. But how that story is translated from canvas or sculpture to viewer depends not just on the imagination and skill of the rendering artist, but on the viewer's creativity, education and life experiences. And there's only one way to apply those ingredients to the interpretative recipe. You have to drive on down to the Alliance for the Arts and take in the show. But don't delay. Exposed: Face and Figure only runs through September 28.
The Alliance for the Arts proudly supports artists and arts organizations in our area as the state designated Local Arts Agency for Lee County. The Alliance for the Arts galleries and gift shop are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1:00 on Saturdays. The Alliance is located at 10091 McGregor Boulevard, just south of Colonial Boulevard.