Sunday, February 15, 2009

Standing Outside the Intersection of Grosz and Kostabi

Leah Tinari paints people who are having more fun than you will ever experience.

Each piece in her show at Mixed Greens is a snapshot of beautiful people in a moment of joy. Really, though, they can't be having that much fun.

Like all those photographs of friends living it up, wildly shouting, smiling, leaping into the sky -the frozen moment, played up for the camera and posterity. And these are the images that form our memory. We are apt to recall the photograph of a day in the sun better than the day itself.

The details Leah paints, the way she twists the shapes as if the canvas itself were drunk, there's something ominous in all that fun. This is the night Joe broke Jill's nose with a bottle. Here's the last time we saw Kyle before the accident. The next day, Jane was committed.

I know her subjects are drawn from her friends, and she's projecting her own joyful spirit onto them -pulling out every ounce of excitement. Still, I can't help but feel there's something sinister to all of those wide mouth smiles.

In working with Leah and her painting on The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, we had to figure out how to animate her portraiture, keep its distortions, but retain pretty likenesses of the stars. I'm not sure how successful we were. I think her style would be best suited to a Waking Life approach with loose bubbling boundaries to line and color.

Her painting technique is fairly simple, layering gauches. Two things, above her excellent draughting, stand out.

First, color. In this show she has a series of black and white paintings modeled after two sequences of photos. These show range and sensitivity in grey scales which make them lush and (though monochrome) wildly colorful.

Second, modelling. She makes great shapes with highlight and shadow to give form. There's limited perspective to her paintings, everything is wide-angle, in focus. Full form is given through the contour of color on the figures with little use of perspective or foreshortening.

In many ways her work is like a rock-and-roll Rockwell, both work from photography (though Leah is not a slavish as Norman) and both present a sort of idealized landscape. The difference between the two is the gap between illustration and fine art.

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