Composing The Artist
Monroe Gallery of Photography
Summer, 2011 Issue
This exhibition of black-and-white photographic portraits felt like a series of encounters with some of the great writers and artists of the 20th century. Steve Schapiro’s images of René Magritte are striking for the way they seamlessly and surrealistically frame the painter in front of—and thereby illusionistically within—his own paintings. One almost expects to see words in careful cursive spelling out “This is not a Magritte” across the surface of the print, so convincingly do these images embody the self-reflective paradoxes for which the Belgian Surrealist is known.
Carl Mydans’s shot of Vladimir Nabokov leaning out a car window, looking at us with eyes that are somehow both piercing and laconic and a slight grin on his face, inspired a new level of appreciation for the writer’s prodigious wit and perverse intelligence. Iconic portraits of David Hockney, Picasso, and Warhol were also on view here, but coming face-to-face with William Faulkner was a rarer treat.
The gallery’s pairing of a Martha Holmes picture of Jackson Pollock pouring paint and an Ernst Haas image of Helen Frankenthaler caught in the same activity exposes the contrasting temperaments of the artists. Pollock crouches, cigarette dangling, flinging strands of pigment from a besmirched bucket with an expression of intensity, while Frankenthaler carefully bends at the waist to spill a quantity of paint from a parkling stainless-steel pail. She is deliberate, even delicate in her approach.
-- Jon Carver