Monday, November 30th, 2009

Craig Manister at the Painting Center

October 27 to November 21, 2009
52 Greene Street, 2nd Floor
New York City, (212) 343-1060

Craig Manister, Figures and Houses with Reflections 2009, Oil on linen, 2" x 36 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.
Craig Manister, Figures and Houses with Reflections 2009, Oil on linen, 2" x 36 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Craig Manister’s new group of landscape paintings continue a movement toward figuration in this painter’s work of the last decade or so. He began in the 1970s as a student of abstract expressionists Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof who influenced Manister’s early abstractions with their weighty surfaces and splendorous color divisions; he also had affinity with such contemporaries as Thornton Willis and Stuart Hitch.

At first glance, Manister’s present works recall Seurat in his pre-pointillist phase, with their bas-relief-like planar structure, rhythmic angular brushstrokes, and rich divisions of  color.  But whereas Seurat was moving from naturalism to abstraction, Manister’s abstraction began to imply figuration without direct study of specific landscapes. The lollypop trees and breadbox houses are certainly more symbol than freshly observed fact recalling neoclassical Picasso, Derain and the Italian Metaphysical painter Carlo Carrà.

Certainly Manister’s ‘keyhole”’ figures are decidedly Metaphysical: Excessively cartoonish, they are jarringly graphic within the otherwise naturalistic rendering of landscape. These animated keyholes are a motif surviving from Manister’s abstract paintings.  Sometimes they appear as solids, at other times as voids.  They seem intended as both mystery and deliberate trademark, both subject and lacuna.

In Figures with Bridge (2008) the eye of the viewer zig-zags in space from overlapping plane to plane,  neoclassic style.  The little keyhole figures recall the tiny people in a Poussin, in their diminished relationship to architecture and sky. In Large Figures with Tree and Mountain(2009) we find monumental key holes (literally reading as holes in the canvas) looming over a horizon.

Figure and Houses with Reflections (2009) comes together as both an homage and affectionate parody of the masters. Referencing one of Corot’s iconic motifs, the “Ville d’Avrey,” the faintly comic keyhole lovers languish in a severe Gallic landscape, perhaps dreaming along with Manister of the depth and mysteries of the great western canon.