The exhibition, Good For You, opened at the David Klein Gallery June 11, 2012. Christine Schefman, the Director of Contemporary Art, brings together four artists from a large geographical area. Paintings by
Kristin Beaver, Ben Grasso, Alyssa Monks, Jessica Rohrer and Trevor Young present fresh work supporting the idea that painting still lives and thrives. Since Kristen Beaver is the only Detroit artist in the exhibit, let me focus on her work.
Hopscotching from early caves to Giotto, Vermeer, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and then on to Caravaggio, Gainsborough, David, Manet, Gauguin, Sargent, Freud and Eric Fischl, we find many artists painting the figure. What motivates a young person today to paint the figure? Some would say that the challenge of mastering the figure holds importance. I argue that artists keep using the figure as subject matter because doing so makes a philosophical statement: I am a person, people are important to me, and we are all people who inhabit this place and give it meaning. When an artist pursues illusionistic work painting still-life, landscapes, cityscapes, interiors they often incorporate the human figure.
Kristen Beaver uses the figure exclusively through large, full figures in bright light and graphics but with a kind of Forty Second Street glamor that grabs the viewer. In earlier work, she notably includes background shadows that crisscross each other and, at times, feel equal in weight to their subject. In these new, smaller paintings, she edits the figure thereby taking a step towards abstraction. She reduces the elements, forcing the viewer to focus on color, texture, composition, and light. It is a good choice. In the painting, Black Velvet, the subject could be anyone, and as a result, we are left to appreciate the way Beaver handles forms, gesture and rendering. Like an actress who has memorized her lines, the artist’s control of technique shines. She can make a good painting, using the figure to help us all better interpret the human condition. Good for us.
Ron Scott is a pseudonym for a writer based in the Detroit area. View more articles by Ron Scott.