Home Architect Dan Adler on Howard Podeswa

Dan Adler on Howard Podeswa

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Ranging from the gloomy to the exuberant, or from the grand and tumultuous scenes of hell to the most humble and calm still lifes, Howard Podeswa’s canvases seem to examine all facets of existence. The artist eschews any signature style, and though his motives often seem elusive, he seems to be driven by a deep curiosity – or even a loving submission – to his subjects, whether they be the people he counts among his closest friends. . , or scraps of materials just lying around his workspace.

At Birch Contemporary, Podeswa’s exhibition Dépaysement / Studio, carefully curated by curator and critic EC Woodley in collaboration with the gallery, reviewed a small part of the artist’s production in recent years. centerpiece of the show, Red Studio, 401 Richmond Street / The Human Condition, 2022, proudly bears its debts to Magritte and Matisse, featuring renderings of previous works by Podeswa with schematic representations of studio furniture, such as stools, shelves and plinths. The entire painting is set against a monochrome background that includes the outline of a central, transparent canvas positioned on a more firmly defined easel. On closer inspection, however, this work seems to pervert its famous sources: for example, its reds are bloodier than Matisse’s and applied more restlessly. But the outlines of the things depicted come across as singularly eerie, vibrating nervously as they oscillate between shades of purple, blue, green and yellow. These pulsating effects are likely due to the artist’s relocation, reworking, and recasting of objects in the composition, which may correspond to maneuvers in the artist’s mind and, of course, in the workshop.

As you navigated through Podeswa’s show, one increasingly felt that his subjects were becoming unbalanced – everyday materials appeared askew and out of kilter. It may have been the result of pandemic-related isolation, exacerbated by the death of the artist’s father, a Holocaust survivor and fellow painter. Two small works in oil on paper, Lemon And Lemon and lime, both from 2018, were realistically rendered on neutral bases. However, the artist’s gaze on these sour fruits, represented from the front and in profile, gives them a vaguely corporeal quality, their skin evoking raw or pockmarked flesh. In the bigger picture Studio with Lemon, 2021, the titular lemon was placed on a piece of striped fabric. These two elements were arranged precariously on a stretched canvas, all surrounded by studio accessories. The lemon appears abnormally large, shaded and/or a little dirty; whether it is meant to mean as “real” or fictional is unclear.

Another piece of fabric, without stripes, appeared in Linen bonded crumpled fabric, 2020. Here the object is suspended and totally alone, its edges frayed. This patinated sample takes pride of place in one of the paintings depicted in Red Workshop. The sheer persistence of this worn article, humble in a provocative measure, takes on a certain gravity, having been exposed and treated, and retained by the artist for examination and judgment. This solemnity was further expressed in Still life on the board2022. The multimedia work features handmade sculptural versions of studio props (books, a ball, a Magrittean chess piece), with textural and chromatic irregularities reflecting an imperative to intensely reconsider and recast, literally, what is simply at hand, as if the normally unshakable appearance and presence of these objects were somehow challenged.

Similar tensions of ambiguity – as to whether a phenomenon is actually there or imagined – run through much of Podeswa’s artistic endeavors, often inspired by regional (Latin American, Belgian) forms of surrealism that were, in part, relatively marginalized reactions to the rise of fascism. in the 1930s and often practiced by artists deeply unsure of what they might believe or represent. With the proliferation of right-wing movements around the world, this questioning of what is given to us reflects a haunting awareness of the recurrence of evil that has the potential to color the perception of everything from a vase to a smoky radiator segment. Podeswa’s paintings command and convince in part because they reflect an ever-present need to fulfill an existential commitment to re-examining what is before us: a myriad of adversities, losses and doubts.

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