SANDY GARNETT 1997 NOVEMBER
AT THE RICH FORUM
Sandy Garnett is currently showing his recent work at the Rich Forum in Stamford, Connecticut. Mr. Garnett debuted in 1994 at The Palace Theater’s Sackler Gallery with a successful grouping of Neo-Pop Portraits, his first body of work and a show I reviewed with enthusiasm. His second solo show reinforces my interest in Mr. Garnett’s ambitious albeit scattered agenda as a 27 year old professional painter living and working out of Stamford, CT.
I don’t generally get out to the Manhattan suburbs, in particular to review art, but I am committed to tracking Mr. Garnett’s strange and original evolution as a fine artist. The Rosenthal Gallery in the Rich Forum, a popular venue that caters to regional as well as major international acts, offers an unorthodox art gallery that wraps around the second floor of the reception atrium, which provides drama but does no wonders for art work or concentrated art viewing.
As the gallery presents a U-shape, Mr. Garnett takes advantage of the architecture by selecting various works from no less than four distinguishable series in progress. This sort of suspect curatorial activity is bold at least and reckless at worst, never to be found in your safely average Chelsea solo show. But there are gems in the rough, and this creator’s protean leanings and powerful sense of self, at various stages of development, are, for fear of waxing sympathetic, inspirational in a ‘you can’t put on a show like this’ sort of way.
The premise of the show, according to Garnett in his artist statement, is to celebrate with friends and collectors the past three years of artist exploration. There are traditional portraits and landscapes, three nude figure paintings, his Reconstruction paintings, and his Fingerprint Portrait paintings.
All I know about this artist is that in 1994 he showed a series of Neo-Pop portraits the had done in college that attracted my attention. Needless to say I expected something along the same lines, and was surprised to find all this going on in one gallery space. Perhaps Mr. Garnett is aware that he can’t get away with this sort of thing in New York, which is the direction he continues to be pointing towards, and so he is throwing a regional last hurrah.
It seems as if Mr. Garnett is stubbornly marching towards mastery of several painting techniques at one time. By the looks of the intensity in his work he will achieve this obsession of his sooner rather than later. The show hits and misses in this respect, presents us with an uneven web of stream of conscience which intrigues more often than repels.
The centerpiece of the show, an ode to Modernism and allegorical narrative, appropriately titled ‘The Mourning’, rages with expression at the same time the piece does something formally with paint by warping several genres into a cohesive narrative. Although dark as the death that weaves itself through the sixteen figures huddled around the central figure, whose gender is rendered insignificant, there is a luminescence that underscores an astute and delicate color sensibility, stabilized by a classic yet creative composition (one of Garnett’s main points of power) that recalls Gericault’s masterpiece ‘Raft of The Medusa’. The work reminds me of El Greco’s sense of drama and palette as well; elongated limbs and exaggerated joints, as much as it starts to recall Francis Bacon, whose focus on twisting and turning portraits inside out with existential glee seems part of Mr. Garnett’s arsenal. Garnett does this all with a light hand, however, and paints a portrait with several lines with a calligraphic methodology that paradoxically brings the entire composition a weight and rhythm that lends itself to Brice Marden’s dancing hand. ‘The Mourning ‘alone is plenty reason to see this show. At eight feet long and seven feet tall, the work is more powerful than most of the painting I see in Manhattan, ambitious yet balanced, emotive yet formally and technically sound, a moving and lasting accomplishment that ought to be seen by more eyes than mine.
Garnett takes us into the world of his nudes in this show, with three pieces placed at the end of one of the gallery wings. His ‘Figure in Green’ is an exceptional painting, with its dramatic perspective and perfectly pitched palette. Mr. Garnett’s nudes are a meditation on light and the body resting, at peace with oneself brought taught by a compositional originality that freshens my take on figure painting. ‘Figure of Green’ of 1995 precedes or at least mirrors the reemergence of figure painting in the high art arena, all but abandoned for the better part of our twentieth century. There are several young artists, notably John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage, who are starting to make a racket with their figurative work, although these two painters cling to parody and kitsch in order to qualify their figurative explorations whereas Garnett finds no need to utilize these current trademarks of the contemporary art world. Garnett’s nudes say with conviction that strong figurative painting doesn’t need to be twenty feet tall like Jenny Saville or qualify itself by winking and nodding at its audience. Garnett makes me want to believe in contemporary figure painting the way Freud and the London Schoolers make one believe. I just wanted to see more work.
Last but not least, at the opposite wing of the gallery there are five fingerprint portraits of the artist and his family members, a novel conceptual exploration that is ripened by the artist’s ‘Autumn Self-Portrait’ of 1996, in which a large black fingerprint of the artist is painted amidst the fiery earthtone palette representing one of the seasons.
There is room for expansion in this series, which I am told began with the artist’s first career painting in 1990 at the age of twenty. Fingerprint portraiture risks novelty at the same time it might lead to some interesting roads of conceptual discovery.
Sandy Garnett’s second solo exhibition as a professional artist, although an oddity of presentation, offers some electric examples of this artist’s rapidly evolving creative world. Mr. Garnett is on his way, and his journey is fun to watch.
‘Recent Works’ is on display through February 1
at the Rosenthal Gallery in the Rich Forum
307 Atlantic Avenue in downtown Stamford, CT.