There’s much to get excited about in Prographica Gallery’s new group show, “Figures & Faces — Fighting with Fiction.” And there’s also some work that draws more of a “ho hum” reaction.
The highlights first: Five terrific artists are part of the mix, with painters Peter Zokosky and Fred Stonehouse being the closest kindred spirits, taking figurative imaginings in fantastical directions.
Zokosky’s oil painting on panel, “Grand Marshal,” is an immediate eye-catcher. It depicts a dwarf in a Pierrot costume and makeup, holding two bones aloft as he crosses a misty wintertime landscape. He’s flanked by two dogs — one in a devil costume, the other dressed as an angel — who’ve mysteriously acquired little human arms at shoulder level.
The image has a cryptic power and complication. With its six-limbed canines and its leering central figure (that’s quite a look he gives the viewer), it strongly suggests a parable of some sort — though what the specifics of that parable might be remains elusive.
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Zokosky’s other works range from small exquisite silverpoint/goldpoint portraits on prepared paper to other oils on panel with equally startling subject matter.
Stonehouse’s subject matter can be both startling and eerie. “Buck,” an acrylic on panel, depicts a hybrid creature — half man/half deer — against a stylized “starry night” backdrop. “Fairy” shows its title character straddling a birch branch, its wings looking almost grafted onto shoulder stumps. Hairless, pebble-toothed and looking a little sickly, this fairy is more creepy than ethereal.
Yvonne Petkus’ oil paintings on board are in a different vein, depicting lone nude female figures who seem to be pushing through some liquid medium. In pressing forward, they’ve lost all firm boundaries to their bodies. In “Wade,” the most striking piece, the connection between the figure’s head and body seems to have been washed away, leaving her disembodied face forlornly turned toward the viewer.
More eccentric, if just as dazzlingly done, are David Fertig’s small pastels on paper inspired by scenes and figures from the Napoleonic Wars. They use an exquisitely fluid impressionist style to evoke a volatile instability in the events they depict — almost as if J.M.W. Turner, in his late phase, had developed a sudden pictorial obsession with the military doings of his day.
Yu Ji, working with charcoal and conte (sticks of graphite or charcoal mixed with wax or clay), has only three pieces in the show, but they’re all large-scale, symphonic knockouts. “From Eldridge” is especially fine. It’s a scene from New York’s Chinatown, with figures emerging from or lingering outside a basement-store entrance. Most are sharply observed, but at the right things get gauzy, with two different faces/figures occupying the same space at different angles — an effect that seems to catch this downbeat street scene at different moments in time.
The rest of the show serves up female nudes that are fairly standard-issue (drawings by Domenic Cretara and Fred Dalkey) and a series of watercolor/pencil drawings by John Fadeff replicating mug-shot photographs of female criminals from the 1910s (a formula that quickly gets repetitious).
The one local artist in the lineup is Phillip Levine, best known for his sculpture, but represented here by graphite drawings — also of female nudes — that have a beguiling way of mixing sharp outline with softer effects.
Curator Norman Lundin, in his statement on the show, remarks: “Verisimilitude is not difficult to achieve; it’s those subtle nuances of gesture that convey emotion which are difficult. … Successful expressive presence may cover up a multitude of formal shortcomings — but it always, always trumps success at form.”
That’s the case with the best pieces here.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com