Chicago-trained, NYC-based artist David Sharpe has been painting cosmic spectaculars for many decades—a thrilling example from about thirty years ago recently hung in the Koffler collection at the DePaul Art Museum. Within that magnificence, the artist has often placed crudely rendered human figures that now feel less like the defiant scrawls of a schoolboy and more like the angry frustration of a mid-life crisis set in the sophisticated, pictorial world of early twentieth-century modernism.
His backgrounds resemble the bright, upbeat Arcadian interiors of Matisse, sometimes complete with the serpentine edges of philodendron leaves. They encompass angular female figures—sisters of the big-foot monster-women and angry wives of Picasso.
Sharpe’s painterly world once offered open vistas of endless visual opportunity, and they are still appealing when reproduced on a small computer screen that captures the overall dynamics. But on a gallery wall, the bold design of bright colors pulls you in, while the scratchy, intentionally uncomfortable areas of detail spit you back out. There’s a painful sense of noisy confinement, even if the colors are just as bright and fresh. I couldn’t get out the front door and back out onto the street fast enough.
It will be fascinating to see where the artist goes next. Sharpe’s painting has too much destructive energy not to keep changing. Hopefully all of us will live to see a complete retrospective of a long career that has been informed by so much modern painting and exceptional ability. (Chris Miller)
Through December 21 at Carl Hammer Gallery, 740 North Wells.