I have to say that I found this ad interesting on a number of levels. Art in America is usually devoid of anything of real interest to a painter, and this copy was not different in that respect. I wondered why an artist with such an evident level of accomplishment would have to spend several thousand dollars in an attempt to interest a gallery in his work. The more I looked at the ad, the more ambivalent my feelings became. Why only New York, Los Angeles or Chicago? The painting itself seemed to be very vigorously painted, but brought to mind the paintings by David Hockney of swimming figures with submerged distortions. And something about the grinning countenance of the artist reminded me of a painting by Richard Dadd, one of his “Watercolors to Illustrate the Passions” titled “Want the Malingerer.” In Dadd’s painting the viewer is looking down a long road leading into the city. A group of beggars, including a dog with a pewter cup in its mouth, are leering out at the viewer from the left edge of the road. Their grinning faces reek of desperation.I was thumbing through a new issue of Art In America when I happened upon a full page ad with a photograph of a grinning artist standing in front of a large painting of three swimming female nudes. The painting looked interesting, and the ad copy read “Figure painter with large body of work seeking new representation in spacious gallery. New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.” The ad included the usual contact info: website, email, phone, in that order.
I logged onto John Asaro’s website, where I discovered that he “had been contemplating painting exclusively the female figure,” but “for one reason or another, the timing was never right.” I also discovered that he intended to “spend the next 20 years working on this theme.” The paintings themselves, at first look, had a certain sensual appeal. The figures were either alone or grouped in almost serial arrangements against flat garish backgrounds. The anticipated flesh tones gave way to the bright candy colors of taffy and cake frosting, the strong cast shadows were painted in saturated complimentary hues. The figures themselves looked like those that you might see in an instructional manual for illustration from the forties, say by Andrew Loomis for instance. A few paintings seemed to have an almost sinister narrative subtext: A limp and unconscious woman being held aloft by disembodied hands; a woman strung up by her ankles, carnally writhing as blood drips from the wound at her throat. The latter painting is titled IRAQ, in case you doubted that the artist was a serious person with something to say.
I did a Google search on the artist’s name, and discovered that he was the same painter responsible for other advertisements I had seen, of figures walking on the beach, tending flowers or leaning languidly against window sills. The style was in deliberate emulation of Joachim Sorolla, with a hint of that artist’s sprezzatura, or studied casualness. The beach scenes, were especially reminiscent of that great Spanish Impressionist. The newer works brought to mind another artist; Andy Warhol, for his garish and arbitrary color, serial imagery, flat graphic representation and explicit relationship to illustration. Another illustrator, Peter Max, emulated this same master in very similar ways when he tried to shed the stigma of his own commercial past. In fact it seems that when any figurative painter wants to suddenly gain acceptance in the overheated blue chip market for modernist and post-modernist works, they do portraits (Max) or figures (Jenny Savile), or old Underwood typewriters (Robert Cottingham) painted starkly against these same flat brightly colored backgrounds. Add a smattering of seemingly random and spontaneous squiggly brushsrokes (also reminiscent of Warhol and Max) and you’ve pretty much got the formula.
I looked again at the Art In America ad, and then the website. My friend Wm Dubin commented “he either has to clean them up or dirty them up. They are too much IN-BETWEEN right now. They remind me of Mel Ramos women distilled through Oskar Kokoschka…..” The problem with these works for me could be stated in simpler terms. They are all dressed up with no place to go. I suddenly, and sadly, realized that this artist was making his big play.