There are at least a dozen very good but very different shows that could be called “New Figurative Realism in Chicago,” drawing from the many living historic styles and ethnic identities in our area. Sergio Gomez, artist and curator of 33 Collective Gallery, has admirably reached out beyond the members of his own organization to find nine painters whom he finds promising and, not surprisingly, like his own work they confront an individual protagonist with the modern world. Most dramatically, there is Jennifer Cronin’s “Peculiar Manifestation of Paint in my Everyday Life,” an epic-sized canvas depicting what must be the artist herself applying makeup in front of her bathroom mirror, while behind her, a monstrous swirl of ugly green paint is reaching out to tap her on the shoulder. More intimate confessional imagery is presented by Rory Coyne’s “Another (Conversation),” where a vigorous but startled young man confronts the large pink rabbit head emerging from his own chest. But most compelling is Ryan Shultz’ “Self Portrait with Christmas Lights.” As the string of holiday needle lights is fading, Christmas (and Christianity?) is definitely over, while the artist’s searching eyes stare out from the cruciform features of his own face and naked shoulders. (By the way, Ryan survived up to episode seven in Bravo’s “Work of Art” reality program last year—quite an achievement for such an old-school painter).
Not all the work here is self-centered. The lonely and lost victimhood of others is explored as well. Doesn’t anyone feel joy and success in the world that surrounds them? Javier Chavira’s standing, meditative nude seems happy enough, but why is an enormous surreal insect covering her eyes? Only the dreaming child depicted by Elsa Munoz seems poised for a life of wonder and opportunity.
As this exhibition proves, non-cartoonish, realistic figuration is alive and well among the younger painters of Chicago, and several of them give credit to old master techniques. But a sensual enjoyment of paint, texture, color and design is very hard to find, and Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens and Velasquez all had that as well. (Chris Miller)
Through March 12 at 33 Collective Gallery, 1029 West 35th.