A Slice of Life opened Thursday night at Naples' Gardner Colby Gallery. It's a group exhibition that contains visually arresting vignettes ripped from everyday life as seen and interpreted by artists Kim English, Stan Moeller, Lesley Rich and Robin Cheers.
By nature, figurative artists are unabashed people watchers, but Cheers has taken the art to new heights. Literally. In Morning Stroll, Stripes, Afternoon and Exit Row, Cheers paints the subjects she observes from an arresting overhead, quasi bird's eye perspective.
Aerial perspective has been a technique included in the artist's paintbox since classical times. Most employed it to portray wide-ranging landscapes and bucolic scenes as seen from hillsides and mountaintops, although some used it in backgrounds to sharpen the contrast of foreground subjects as da Vinci did in the Mona Lisa. Today, aerials are a favorite motif of hyper and photorealists such as London-born artist Raphaella Spence.
Cheers, by contrast, favors a less lofty, more intimate vantage in these four overhead views that suggest the perspective of a camera but deliver nuanced control that can only happen on canvas. From a technical standpoint, the overhead view permits Cheers to foreshorten her figures, thereby providing a more modern impressionist interpretation replete with abstract connotations. As a result, the works are more expressive, gestural and decidely kinetic. In fact, movement and directionality serve as unifying themes, which Cheers underscores in Exit Row by supplying a yellow arrow on the sidewalk in the foreground of the composition.
From the viewer's side of the equation, Morning Stroll, Stripes, Afternoon and Exit Row possess undeniable universal appeal. After all, don't we all like to watch people, especially when we can observe them anonymously? To be sure, there's always a hint of voyeurism in even the most innocent people watching, but the real lure of the overhead perspective is that it invites us to engage our imaginations to create stories that explain who the subjects are, what they're doing and where they're going. While the images never change, their inherent ambiguity can be reinterpreted with each new viewing. Like a good abstract, paintings like these never become stale or boring.
"To discover and share the hidden treasures of everyday moments is the goal of my work," Cheers readily admits. The bulk of her work includes paintings of the beach, children at play, farmer's markets, horse shows and swimming holes, and so her four overhead city scenes may be but a brief digression or the start of an ongoing series. Time will tell. But if she continues the overhead series, she will occupy rarified air, joining only Lee Price, Warren Keating and a couple of other figurative artists who embrace this fascinating but rare viewpoint in their body of work.