Gabriel Laderman, Poetic American Realist Painter, Robert Schoelkopf Gallery (1986)



 Gabriel Laderman's latest paintings at Robert Schoelkopf, 50 W. 57th, explore the violence (psychological and physical) that erupts when suffering from, or attempting to break through, the repression of feeling and inhibited personal development.


 The pictures are dark and heavy, the paint surfaces of the studies expressively scabbed and scumbled, with an original umber-violet-yellow color scheme, glaring light, despondent shadow and a fetid emotional atmosphere worthy of Dostoevski or Ibsen. Passivity, impotence, alienation, despair and derangement give way to rape and violence -- the murder of women by men and women by women -- as if the female, a symbol for repressed feeling (and life itself), was somehow to blame, had become the scapegoat for unbearable internal suffering.


 In a three-canvas work, "A Crime and its Consequences," a clothed man strangles a nude woman on a bed, the compositional order (despite the violence) of the first two pictures becoming upheaved and distorted in the third where the sated man lies, also on a bed, eyes closed, somberly completed yet destroyed by his crime. He recognizes that he has been reduced to primal chaos and the lawlessness of the jungle that civilization constantly seeks to contain. As in all of Laderman's paintings, rather than an actual physical murder, this seems the havoc, both real and symbolic, wreaked within the individual (and society at large) by warring forces in the psyche and social (dis)order.


 But Laderman's major work in size and aesthetic and emotional complexity is "The House of Death and Life," 93" x 135", a six-canvas construction topped by its own narrow "shingled" roof, whose compartmentalizations serve as the four rooms, stairway and hall of a two-story house. This is the stage upon which the concerns of its occupants, the artist's surrogates, are enacted. Ostensibly based on a Georges Simenon story, like all art its true source and meaning originate within the artist himself.


 Laderman is responding to inner and outer pressures, the conflicting personal and social imperatives that buffet and confuse us all...the trivialization and dehumanization of life by mass media artifice and technological (rather than human) emphasis.


 Many people, artists included, unable to deal with such agony, repress it, trying to pretend it doesn't exist. In aesthetic terms, this translates into Mondrian, Albers and Marden; geometric abstraction, minimalism and conceptual art; art that is safely removed from feeling -- and potential pain -- into a comforting, if delusionary, ivory-tower realm of theoretical abstract relationships far from any reality of personal or world aspiration and suffering. The result is art and human beings out of touch with human needs, unable to resolve an unnecessarily exaggerated animus between intellect and emotion. It is this constricted one-sidedness that Laderman's art addresses in this exhibition.


 Laderman's courage is admirable in facing contemporary human realities, and doing so through paintings that are not beautiful in any common understanding of the term...except in their honesty. Known primarily for his oil paintings of precisely detailed, minutely defined buildings and cityscapes, that by their technique and point of view extol a sense of order and a classicist's mind, these paintings clearly mark an extension of the artist's creativity and personal expressiveness.


 Yet, if Ishmael -- like Jonah -- must finally pop like a cork from the depths of the sea, so Gabriel Laderman must reach for the light after plumbing dark psychic depths. He finds compensatory light in two insistently luminous skyscapes of Kuala Lumpur. Myriad swallows joyously dart and wheel through light-filled skies as if the released spirits of imprisoned modern man.




Copyright by Don Gray


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