Thursday, June 25, 2009

Richard Neal, portraits

Richard Neal's portraits now at the Cape Cod Art Museum in Dennis are unlike any portraits I've seen. I'm afraid these photographs are totally inadequate to show the amount of texture and detail involved. For those who have large screen monitors with good resolution some of the intricacy may be visible but very few really good photographers could capture the wonderful combination of apparently found objects and paint used to give meaning to these faces which are strong faces in the first place.

Before painting the portraits Neal affixed pieces of old blue jeans with their zippers and buttons, packaging materials, cardboard, flat and corrugated, netting, even an iron bolt, to the surface of the canvas and very skillfully used them to give form and texture to the faces. The reference that came immediately to mind was Rauschenberg; Neal's purpose is not abstract but in the service of showing human strength within the randomness of prosaic experience.

For me the above painting was the strongest -- Rachel did not agree, she preferred others although we both agree that the top portrait was very, very strong -- one has to see the texture to appreciate it fully. This painting is call PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. By adding the name the painting acquired one more dimension -- in general paintings don't, or shouldn't, need names. But sometimes this kind of reference gives the viewer just that much more frisson.

The museum is not at all large but was a pleasure. Other rooms held more expected sorts of paintings, landscapes mostly. A small porch -- the building apparently was built as a private home -- has a fascinating collection of sculptures, mostly in iron and found objects. The gardens around are beautifully kept and hold more sculpture among the flowers and trees. Finding paintings with as much force and depth as Neal's in this setting is a wonderful surprise.

No comments: