The Realist Impulse

John Andolsek wants it to be difficult. "Does it," the painter asks "look like Truth or does it look like Art?" And, we ask, what is the distinction? How can a sophisticated guy in the twenty-first century even have the nerve to use capitalized abstract nouns? Does he value the rough edges of the real experience rather than the artifice and technical skill needed to create illusion?

Paradise is Full (2006) illustrates, indeed represents, Andolsek's distinction. Finely painted curtains part over an area that at first glance looks flat but then reveals itself as very subtly graded indefinite space. As one looks longer, that indefinite space resolves not to vagueness but to precisely rendered infinite space. Paradise … but is it empty or replete?

Across this curtained entrance is a broad swath of mustard –colored paint, brutally barring the viewer from participating in 'paradise.' Like a velvet rope that limits entrance to a nightclub, the paint reminds us that we may be able to peek at infinity but are perhaps not permitted inside.

Painted with the thought of young men and women suicide bombers, trying to enter a paradise filled with eternal riches, Paradise is Full begs the question, "Is Paradise indeed full?" Can you still get there or is it a hoax. Much in the same way that one nineteenth-century thinker Karl Marx, wondered about religion being the opiate of the people, Andolsek invokes Realist painter Gustave Courbet's claim that one must be of one's own time and that by translating the ideas and customs of the day through one's own perception challenges the existing social order.[1]

For Courbet, those issues were about the increasing divisions between rich and poor, the country and the city and the hierarchy of the fine arts. Courbet's paintings were criticized for their rough, unfinished quality and their choice of subject. A Burial at Ornans, (1851, Musee d'Orsay, Paris)), for example, is an unvarnished depiction of a country graveside service. Courbet fuses his social commentary with the technical issues of painting to reinforce style as content. Toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, those Realist issues address divisions between the First and Third Worlds, global distribution of resources and, for Andolsek as well as Courbet, the language of painting itself. Andolsek draws on his impressive technical knowledge of the medium to address pressing social issues. Paradise is Full uses the contrast between known tropes of Western painting to depict the strife between people in the world.

Like Paradise is Full, White Elephant (2007) deconstructs social meaning through painterly styles. A white elephant is a large, obsolete object that can be neither used nor gotten rid of. The painting's background is a classically illusionist background, rendered a bit dreamy and Surrealist (think Yves Tanguy). The object in the foreground is a roughly yet masterfully painted white form. It could be an abstract blob – or it could be a Roche-Bobois couch photographed in soft –focus. This is the language of commercial advertising that seduces the consumer into wanting whatever is being sold. Andolsek imbeds the drama of consumerism into the marks of painting itself.

These deftly painted, ironic pictures are only two among many of John Andolsek's witty, trenchant yet beautiful works in this exhibition. They break open the rhetoric of painting only to re-ask the questions.

"I am of the tribe that asks questions and asks them to the bitter end![2]"

Copyright—Aline Brandauer 2008

[1] Linda Nochlin, "Courbet, Oller, and a Sense of Place: The Regional, the Provincial, and the Picturesque in 19th-Century Art, " The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth –Century Art and Society. Harper & Row Publishers (New York) 1989. Pp. 19 – 32.

[2] Jean Anouilh, Antigone, translation, 1951, Lewis Galantiere, Methuen & Co. (London) 1951, originally published in France 1942.

John Andolsek