M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Paradox and Equilibrium

"Hercules Protecting the Balance Between Pleasure and Virtue," by David Ligare, 1993, oil, 60 x 56. Private collection, Santa Barbara, California.

"Still Life With Apples (Aparchai)," by David Ligare, 2008, oil, 20 x 24. Courtesy Hirschl & Adler Modern Galleries, New York, New York.

As bad as the art business has been in the past 18 months, there are some benefits to galleries closing, downsizing, or changing direction. For example, with the closing of Hackett-Friedman Gallery in San Francisco, several important artists have been picked up by New York galleries, including my friend David Ligare. I've admired David's classically inspired still lifes and figure paintings for more than 25 years, and I had the chance to visit his mountain-top studio in California a few years ago. I'm delighted that with the demise of his San Francisco gallery he will moving work to New York where it will be exhibited at Hirschl & Adler Modern.

What I find particularly interesting about David's paintings is that he finds ways of updating themes from the history of art that have particular relevance for modern times. For example, a number of his paintings deal with the themes of balance and paradox, or the need to establish a harmonic relationship between seemingly contradictory human tendencies. He often uses classically draped figures in the landscape to explore the forces of passion and reason -- the Apollonian and Dianysian traits most people have -- as well as the theme of life and death. As David has said, "the balance of opposites is the essence of Classicism," and the issues have interested painters for centuries. In David's case, he uses a stark, photographic light and the California landscape to certify that the themes are exceedingly relevant to the 21st century.

Another theme David pursues in his still life paintings is the celebration of nature. Several years ago he came across something called "aparchai," or wall decorations in the ruins of Pompeian homes that celebrated the annual harvest. In some cases, the frescoes showed folding screens that could be opened when residents celebrated the new harvest and praised the gods for delivering it to them. David did several paintings with folding screens added to their frames, and he also painted a variation of an aparchai using the three-sided platform on which he has been painting still lifes for decades. The suggestion is that the still lifes are forms of celebraton and worship.

If you don't already know David's work you might want to check out his website (http://www.davidligare.com/) or his gallery's (http://www.hirschlandadler.com/).

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