Painting the Narrative at the National Arts Club

In Dialogue with Dee Shapiro

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Installation view

In the group exhibition Painting the Narrative at the National Arts Club in New York City the artist Dee Shapiro brings together six contemporary artists who explore content and form of narrative painting ranging from interiors to landscapes, personal to imagined, realistic to fantastic. Featured artists: Jennifer Coates, Laura Karetzky, Judith Linhares, Ernesto Renda, Kyle Staver, and George Towne. The show runs through June 28th.

In your own paintings you seem to explore with a deep sensibility for surface, the intersection of pattern, nature, geometry, and craft. What brought you to curate a show about Narrative painting?

As Chair of the Exhibitions Committee at the National Arts Club we are responsible for proposing and selecting exhibitions. I and Robert Yahner who is the Registrar and Curator work together with the committee. I don’t consciously select work that relates to my work. I usually come up with an idea and then find the artists to fit the concept. I happened to see Laura Karetzky’s work in her show in LA and found in it something more than just figurative. I wondered what was behind some of the images with those overlapping views and levels. That brought me to thinking about the ‘narrative’ or story one could glean from the work. Once the idea was set, I went searching for artists who would fit the concept but with different views, applications and approaches. We wanted to limit the number of artists to give each a good viewing space.

Please walk us through the narratives and the way they are expressed in this exhibition. Laura Karetzky’s imagery and Ernesto Renda’s paintings – what is your take on the relationship between these two bodies of work?

Laura’s work uses screenshots from the iphone and Ernesto uses ‘screen’ shots from films he remembers from his childhood. They both deal with looking beyond the picture plane and use a bit of technology to inform the work. Both choose loaded subjects. In Laura’s work you are looking in at several things at once. She paints herself, family and friends in everyday situations to bring a sense of place and time challenging the viewer to face those moments caught in the frame. Ambiguous relationships and interactions between the figures are in the work of both artists. Ernesto chooses a film clip and sometimes two then imposes other overlapping images creating an “intertextuality” that interests him. The ambiguity in Ernesto’s work feels less familiar and more jarring than Laura’s. The relationship between figures can be fraught and intimate, usually with an overlay of anxiety. There is a screen like glow from each of the pieces in the show. We positioned those pieces near enough for one to observe the contrast, yet similarity in their approach to the Narrative.

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Laura Karetzky
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Ernesto Renda (right)

Can you shed some light on Judith Linhares’ paintings in the show?

Judith Linhares’ guoache pieces seemed to me based on some dreamlike or unconscious imagery. Her ability to use the medium with riotous color, heft, and dexterity along with a kind of kooky imagery caught my attention. “Fall Into Morning’” depicts a female figure loosely painted in bright color and geometric shapes falling backwards into the arms of another women rendered in a darker color. Both appear to be smiling. They are surrounded in a semicircle of pattern (perhaps that also attracted me to her work) with a warm light background and suggestions of landscape. How the shapes evolve through the application of paint can be part of the story, but though somewhat abstracted they are clearly figurative. You can come up with a story or two in this painting.

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Jennifer Coates (back), George Towne (mid), Judith Linhares (front)

There is an interesting relationship between Kyle Staver’s and Jennifer Coates’ paintings in the show. How do you see it?

Jennifer Coates and Kyle Staver were both dealing with familiar historical references. Kyle with the Bible from which she takes a subject and makes it visual but with her own rendition of the story. Her figures come up close in the canvas and seem to encourage the viewer to enter the scene. The foreground is dark with light from the background touching surfaces of the images. Jennifer draws on mythical subjects and sets them at play in a brightly colored forest. Those satyrs, gods, women and animals gather in the center of the painting performing dances or rituals as if on a stage. Application of paint differs between the artists. Kyle uses denser application and a more defined painting of the subjects to Jennifer’s lighter touch with simple shapes to depict tree trunks and a more abstract expressionistic application of the foliage. I can find some humor in both paintings. We wanted large pieces for the new space and both paintings draw you into the space.

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Kyle Staver (front), George Towne (mid), Laura Karetzky (back)
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Jennifer Coates (back), Kyle Staver (mid), George Towne (front)

Please tell me more about George Towne’s paintings and how do you see them in context of the other works in the show?

George Towne’s work can be considered figurative but his figures illicit an internal and personal story. The relationship of two male nudes in the grass with eyes closed not facing each other is not the usual homoerotic art by gay men. I wanted to show work that is not usually considered to have a narrative, where there is no obvious interaction between figure or clearly about a story. The painting of Nando on the fire escape shows an obviously gay man who seems to be deep in thought. The fire escape and his position embellish the story. I wanted to include a skillfully realistic figurative piece with a narrative juxtaposed among the other renditions that vary from the super real to the abstract. The practice each artist employs brings another level of interest to the exhibition.

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George Towne (left), Judith Linhares (mid, right)

All photos courtesy of Laura Karetzky

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: