I get up very early in the morning. Feed the cats, fish and tortoises. Make my first cup of coffee.
With my cup in hand, I tour my “collection” of art acquired over the years. I read somewhere that Frick would wake in the middle of the night to roam his collection with a glass of scotch and cigar in hand. I get it. It is a deep pleasure.
Lester Johnson, 3 Men in Hats, 1963
My first stop on my tour is always in front of a 1963 Lester Johnson of 3 Men in Hats. They are perfect in the light right before dawn, maybe even a tad sinister. If someone needed a close profile of these three I would be at a loss to give more than a hazy description. Next to Lester is a Bob Thompson painting called Hunting the Unicorn. It is painted in a soup of pearly grays; again the early morning light is just right. From here I turn to my latest acquisition, a Janice Nowinski, Guy With Surfboard. At a time when I have very little access to paintings outside of my home, having a new painting to get acquainted with has been a godsend.
Bob Thompson, Search for the Unicorn, 1960, gouache and charcoal over pastel on paper, 25 ½ x 39 ½ inches
Exploring a new painting is a lot like getting to know a new friend, first impressions followed by the building of connections and deepening understanding. Sometimes there is nothing to explore after the first look. Thankfully Janice is a painter that makes paintings that give and give. There is no quick “got it.” Rather Surfer Guy reveals itself slowly and on many fronts.
Janice Nowinski, Guy With Surfboard, 2020, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 22 inches
It’s a funny painting. A Surfer Guy, clearly not of the California variety, lovingly poses arm in arm with what appears to be the world’s tallest surfboard. The stance has that buddy snapshot feel. The light is pure Far Rockaway. This guy would never be caught dead in regulation Malibu swimwear. Instead, he is shirtless and shoeless in his ankle length black jeans. What strikes me is how Janice has managed to make the Surfer both comic and heroic at the same time.
In the middle of the world falling apart, Surfer Guy hits the right note: humane, funny, noble. I love the way her paint has gone down. I can feel her decisions in my nervous system. The staccato of the surface gives me the mph of the wind on the beach that day. The particulars of her color palate nail the scene to a specific geography, time of day, year, and temperature. This is a generous painting.
Each time I visit this Guy I come away with more. This morning it is the discovery of the space between the surfer’s legs. I have no idea how Janice managed to tell me so much about the character of Surfer Guy by the character of the space between his legs. I suspect it has something to do with her insistence that every part of the painting is alert and responding to the whole. I can feel this call and response across the canvas.
These three paintings get along very well. They share a deep faith in the act and power of putting down paint. None employ any hedge-betting irony to rescue them from their sincerity. They are bravely and openly painted from the heart.
Kyle Staver, Venus and the Octopus, 2020, Oil on canvas, 70 x 58 inches
Kyle Staver is a Brooklyn-based artist. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, The National Academy Museum, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is represented by Zürcher Gallery in New York and Paris.