This summer, the George Adams Gallery presents a group exhibition ‘Body/Object’ exploring the diverse ways artists make use of the human body in their work. The exhibition includes paintings and drawings from the 1970s through the present, which eschew any traditional definition of ‘figurative’ in favor of the grotesque, abstracted and allegorical. Rather than directly representational, bodies appear in pieces, in flux, or as a stand-in for humanity as a whole. For artists such as Victoria Roth, Magalie Guérin and Elizabeth Murray, this is via a reduction of form and motion; while in works by Luis Cruz Azaceta, Peter Saul and Christina Ramberg there is a subversive objectification of the body. Franklin Williams and Michael Bauer take a psychological approach in their layered, textured paintings, while Gregory Gillespie and Maryan reach into more primal, spiritual aspects of the human experience.
The earliest works in the exhibition are late paintings by Polish artist Maryan, done in the mid-‘70s. A culmination of his life-long exploration of what he called ‘Personnages’, they are irreverent and visceral portraits of the self, with abbreviated features and limbs connoting the more basic of human impulses. A kinship exists with the work of Gregory Gillespie, who, particularly in his later works, gave free rein to weird and imaginative portrayals of humanity. His paintings frequently reflect on the self, and Horse, a bizarre amalgamation of human and animal, is a meditation on spirituality and sexuality.
The physical body is a starting point for Victoria Roth - her abstractions are not visibly human, but the fleshy, dynamic shapes in Flume nonetheless recall limbs and viscera. Elizabeth Murray focuses on a single piece of anatomy in the drawing Big Toe #1. Her work is often based on quotidian objects and settings (including the bodies which inhabit them), breaking down and restructuring their forms. In the reverse, Magalie Guérin layers shapes and materials to create her compositions; through this process inevitably biomorphic shapes emerge, giving the suggestion of figures.
At the other end of the spectrum, Christina Ramberg’s slick redux of clothed and bound bodies are the height of formality - though concealed, the inherent proportions and symmetry retain the markers of the human form. And though the silhouette in Franklin William’s painting Master Yeats is akin to a three-quarter bust, it serves as a portrait more from the intricate patterning and collage than anything else. His single concession is a pair of stylized eyes - a motif that also appears in Michael Bauer’s similarly dense painting Mud Cave and White Moon.
Bodies are objects in the violent critiques of city life painted by Luis Cruz Azaceta. Simultaneously hilarious and macabre, these canvases date to the late ‘70s when Azaceta was living and working in New York. Their bright, garish colors and light hearted titles: Rainbow Rope, Striptease of Humanity, belie his anger towards injustice, which has become a central feature of his painting. There has always been a relationship between Azaceta and Peter Saul in their shared, gleeful irreverence. Yet Saul is at his most understated in the rather straightforward drawing You Hurt My Feelings. Depicting a man stabbed multiple times in the groin, the ‘you’ and ‘my’ could both be the individual - or not.