Friday, June 3, 2016

Oil And Water

Patrick Shoemaker, Hindrance, 2016
Oil on canvas, 46 x 44 inches
Image courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York
Exhibition Review

February 25 – April 2, 2016

Figures intertwine in Patrick Shoemaker’s paintings, yet it is unclear if any given interaction is a dance or a fight. In Hindrance, a couple tilts this way and that, swinging vertiginously against an ochre background. Are the two locked in a tango, or are we witnessing the final blow of a wrestling bout? The painting’s title suggests the second, but the image looks incongruously joyful. In other works in this exhibition, the contest is between a person (or multiple people) and an animal, such as in Beast Beating, where five figures dressed in glowing yellow, red, and blue, grapple with a bear-like animal against a maroon and pink background. Altogether “Fire On Fire,” the artist’s first-ever solo exhibition, featured fourteen small to medium-sized paintings ranging from 15x13 inches to 58x58 inches.

While the works are not exactly narrative, visual themes and archetypes recur, including the fire of the show’s title. Flower forms crop up throughout the paintings, perhaps more symbolic than real, since they always conform to the idea of a cartoon rose or a tulip shape. Water takes on the feeling of a freighted symbol: Bringing Water is a close-up of a person carrying what looks like a book, but could be a fire bucket. The figure in Soft Traipse certainly carries a bucket. Translucent layers in the paintings look like water as they interact. Many works contain “rays” like those in Charles Demuth’s My Egypt, where the picture is sliced into subtly different-colored wedges. In Pour, one of the larger works, such a layer turns objects a different color, from burnt sienna to pinkish beige.

Shoemaker’s surfaces are thickly painted in oil so that no texture of the canvas shows through. The compositions fit tightly together like jigsaw puzzles. Surfaces are glossy, but at the same time soft. Contours are blended with a dry brush to leave feathered, irregular edges, and colors glow through the shallow spaces between different layers of depth. Shoemaker’s figurative paintings recall Milton Avery’s: solid planar backgrounds, broad simple shapes, and figures with no faces. Like Avery, or Bob Thompson, he uses colors with lots of white added to them. Rather than being pretty, here the colors create a somber effect.

Sometimes the artist uses background patterns that gesture toward Matisse, as with the rough plant-like forms of Zig Zag. The lower part of Red Boot is taken up by a shape that echoes one of the modernist master’s cut-outs: palm or seaweed, divided into sections of pink, green, and blue. The unmodulated flatness and anonymity of Shoemaker's shapes and figures, instead of making them generic, allow them to feel universal and timeless, even iconic. The paintings grab hold of you quietly and insistently, and their vibrations mesmerize. Shoemaker manages to evoke something ghostly, wistful, and genuinely moving.

--Jeff Frederick

Patrick Shoemaker, Beast Beating, 2015
Oil on canvas, 48 x 46 inches
Image courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

Patrick Shoemaker, Pour, 2016
Oil on canvas, 54 x 44 inches
Image courtesy Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

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