Saturday, October 22, 2011

THEATER OF MEMORY

I have not been able to visit my friend Gregg Chadwick's current exhibition in person, but I have the catalogue in hand, and I have seen some of the paintings in his studio. "Theater of Memory: Paintings by Gregg Chadwick" is installed at the Monterey Peninsula College Art Gallery through November 4. The catalogue, by the same title, is available online. It's a beautiful little book, and the images give a reliable impression of the artist's work, even though in reduced scale: some of the paintings are of imposing size and in artworks, of course, size matters. Still, failing a visit to the gallery, the book is a fine way to make a preliminary acquaintance with the work.

The text is written by the artist himself--who is also an excellent and perceptive writer, as you'll discover if you visit his lively and always interesting website at Speed of Life. His words in the catalogue reveal a part of the narrative content of the paintings that can otherwise only be intuited through the immediacy of their emotional impact. Gregg is interested in the depth of being human, the complex of heart and mind, presence and memory, dreams and reality, flesh and spirit that make up the wholeness of our experience and the way in which we relate to each other. His approach to painting, and the end results, make his intention clear. We gaze into, and through, multiple translucent veils of paint, laid on in layers and scraped away, erased, repainted, so that we seem eventually to encounter the figures--he paints people--as process, emerging from mists of the past into always tentative and shifting consciousness.

Particularly moving to this one viewer is "Memory Wall: My Father at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial" (24" x 18", oil on linen, 2011) ...

(all images courtesy of the artist)

... a portrait of the artist's father in U.S. Marine dress uniform. The face is seen in three-quarters profile, pale and stern, lips full, eyes gazing upward, as if respectfully, toward an unseen flag or deity. The uniform, complete with medals, speaks loudly of his pride and service. The portrait speaks of duty, unwavering loyalty, discipline. The man is tough. And yet... we see him through the eyes of a son, respectful, yet aware of the vulnerabilities, the softer side of real humanity that lurks behind the outward show of strength. We are reminded, as men, of our own experience with fathers--giants for us as little children; imposing, distant, to be feared for their infinitely superior strength and wisdom. We may come to resent the discipline they impose on us, but accept it grudgingly because, like God, our father can't be wrong. As we grow, however, if we're fortunate and strong ourselves--if that father has managed to share his strength with us--we come to see the uncertainty, the self-questioning, the doubts and fears that assail even the toughest of men, and to recognize the deep bond of love between us.

This, at least, is what I find in Gregg's portrait. Were I his father, I would be much moved by the tribute and learn much about myself and my son. The painting from which the show and the catalogue both take their title, "Theater of Memory" (48" x 48", oil on linen, 2011) ...


... explores a different and equally moving aspect of the father-son relationship: it recalls, in the foreground, the boyhood face of a young nephew whose eyes seem already conscious of the destined brevity of his life, already focused beyond life itself; and, in the middle ground, the boy's father, watching over him with love and concern, as though attempting to step across the space that separates them. Against a dimly-perceived landscape, the figures are at once close and irrevocably distant.

There is, in Gregg's paintings, a thoroughly human compassion, let's say a love for every one of his subjects and a profound connection with their vulnerable humanity and the ephemerality of life. It is not surprising to find, in other examples of his work, images of the Buddha and of Buddhist monks--here included only in "Arlington" (72" x 36", oil on torinoko paper on canvas, 2010) ...


... a painting inspired by the funeral of a young Marine, killed in action in Iraq.) One senses in this work the influence of the dharma, the understanding of human suffering and the supremacy of compassion as the worthiest of human values.

1 comment:

gregg chadwick said...

Thank you Peter for your deeply thoughtful words.