Women are objectified, and even demeaned, by male artists in so many ways in so much contemporary art that one is hardly prepared for the mellow romanticism and aesthetic gallantry that distinguishes the paintings of the Mexican artist Ricardo Lowenberg, on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, in Chelsea, from September 9 through 30 (Reception September 11, 6 to 8 pm).
If Lowenberg's work shares certain qualities with that of Frida Kahlo ¬¬only, a much less tormented Frida, without the blood and tears¬¬ it could possibly be attributed to the fact that, when he was a boy, growing up in an artistic family in Mexico City, his mother would often take him to the house of Frida Kahlo, where his older sisters often went to play as children.
In any case, looking closely at Kahlo's work may have taught Lowenberg something about how the lessons of Mexican folk art, its clarity, brilliant colors, and straightforward frontal figuration, can be deliberately emulated and integrated into the work of a sophisticated painter to striking effect. He also studied the great Mexican muralists and obviously evolved his own way of merging their strong forms and coloristic boldness with the very different kind of delicacy that one sees in the French Impressionists to create the uniquely original personal synthesis that informs his work.
The soulful sensitivity that has made Lowenberg one of Mexico's most celebrated contemporary painters in recent years has much to do with a sensibility which seems to stand somewhat apart from the dominant trends of our era. Especially refreshing is his apparent freedom from the desperate search for novelty that has given rise to what can only be termed a worldwide cult of ugliness.
Although they are clearly individuals with their own specific qualities, the women in his paintings all possess in common an almost sacred beauty that is especially apparent in the oil on canvas titled "Inocencia." The picture depicts a slender girl in a frilly white dress, standing on a verandah with the appealing awkwardness of early adolescence, cradling a simple doll in her arms, as though reluctant to let go of an object that may represent her last connection to childhood. Although she has the wholesomeness of one of Renoir's rosy cheeked milkmaids, her lovely complexion and features are clearly Mexican, as is the earthy landscape ranging out behind her.
Here, as in his other feminine portraits, one of the most satisfying attributes of Ricardo Lowenberg's paintings is the harmonious manner in which he integrates the figures with their surroundings. This is particularly clear in "Monica," wherein the configurations possess an almost cubistic angularity. However, it is more than a mere formal device; it is the artist's way of revealing the affection of these women for their familiar environment, which comes across most dramatically, in "Alicia," in which the model, who resembles a Mexican version of the elegant French actress Juliette Binoche, regards the viewer from behind a row of large, brilliantly colorful fronds.
Although paintings of women make up one of the most prolific areas of his oeuvre, Ricardo Lowenberg reveals his versatility in masterfully organized still life subjects such as "Limones Y Bromelia," as well as in the somewhat surreal composition "Esperanza," in which an unborn baby appears in the fetal position in a womb-like form centered in what appears to be a metaphysical landscape.
Image Credits: Monica, Mixed Media on Canvas, 31" x 27"
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