Art Review Archives:
Thomas Metcalf: Paintings
July 18 - August 23, 2003
With eyes gently closed, Thomas Metcalf's subjects seem to be active in some inner reverie at which we can only guess. In these portraits, six of ten works now showing at Gescheidle, Metcalf brings out a gentle luminescence, a spiritual radiance in these ordinary individuals. The artist infuses everyday appearance with overtones of the sacred or mystic, as well as inviting the viewer to muse: What do these individuals sense that is so sublime?
The light, a pearly-white radiance angling from overhead, and the gently upturned faces bring to mind saintliness, the hopeful making of a wish, a flower following the warmth of the sun. The tender, exquisitely realized detail of the faces is both sensual, and spiritual. Pereira (oil on panel: 16"x10": 2002) is rendered with a warmth of observation that brings out a dignified beauty in her weathered face, a deep sublimity: not joy, but something rarer and more refined. Eyes closed behind the glass discs of his lenses, Linford (oil on panel: 16"x10": 2002) seems to perceive something transcendant, whether within himself, or without. Zollo (oil on panel: 16"x10": 2002) calls to mind the melting surrender of Bernini's sculpture St. Theresa and the Angel. In these images of transcendant realism, what they're thinking or experiencing is at once highlighted, and forever sealed. On what they truly meditate, we can only imagine; but we do receive their sense of contemplation, and a dignity that is both saintly and everyday.
In the four remaining works Metcalf captures other aspects of the mystery of human being, inspired by the birth of his most recent child. The angular elbows of the sleeping children in Night (oil on canvas: 40"x65": 2002) emerge from a murky deep-sea darkness, as if caught in the bluish-white flare of a bathysphere's exploring headlight. The two little ones are as strange and vulnerable as undersea creatures in their deep sleep. The triptych Mother (oil on panel: 77"x44": 2002) presents strength and confidence in contrast with these vulnerabilities. She is sleekly nude and very pregnant, the artist finding elegance and beauty in the curves of her swelling body. In the left and right panels, she meditates or muses; in the central panel she engages the viewer with an arch, challenging look, hands compassing the rounded globe of her belly, all but daring us to overlook her role as carrier of new life. She is both woman as Woman, and as Mother, and the placement of her hands and hips, mirrored on left and right, provide a graceful, decorative rhythm of framing that draws all focus, ultimately, to the navel of her fullness: center, axis, tether between one generation and the next.
From the heights of transcendant sublimity to the strange undersea world of child's deep night, Metcalf expresses human states that are out of the ordinary, yet not, conceivably, beyond the reach of experience. Thomas Metcalf: Paintings will be at Gescheidle Gallery through August 23, 2003.
--Katherine Rook Lieber
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