Art & Culture in Chicago

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Vacant Beauty

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standishviagraRobert Standish’s paintings are beautiful.   

They make painters happy, not only because they’re well rendered but also because their commercial success is a sign that painting is not dead.Not even close.

Standish currently has a solo show of his new large-scale photorealistic paintings at Carrie Secrist gallery. Although the subjects vary, an urban theme is pervasive.

In the front room are four candid portraits of Los Angeles street dwellers, presumably vagrants and prostitutes, each looking worn down and off guard. Corporate logos are subtly embedded into the pictures, giving the appearance of a modern & minimal high-budget billboard add.A young blonde in a tube top advertises Viagra, a homeless man advertises Rolex.


The back room contains paintings of blurred traffic lights, perhaps less intriguing than the others at first glance but attractive and graceful in their simplicity. A few of the paintings are basically just strips of color, diagonally sweeping through a black void.

Despite the undeniable visual appeal of the paintings, upon reading about Standish and his work, there is a problem. His ideas are becoming foggy.  Maybe the art world in finally getting the best of this fresh, “untrained” artist. The figurative paintings in the show would be clearer without the brand logos. The logos seem like an afterthought; a convoluted way of validating photorealistic painting for the conceptual art world. Their inclusion degrades the simple elegance of the paintings.


The body language of Standish’s’ muses is compellingly classic, though.  The people look uncomfortable and unsatisfied.  In “Woman on Sunset Blvd,” a woman stares down into the corner, past the viewer, much like Degas’Absinthe Drinker.” The tweaked-out man in “Gastown Finn (Rolex)” looks like Vincent Van Gogh.  And although there is never more than one figure in each painting, there is the sense that these people are standing, lost, in a sea of bustling people.

  Those who go to the show without reading this review will be lucky, because they will be able to enjoy the paintings as I did- as titillatingly well-rendered copies of banal urban happenings.  Perhaps, like me, they will hold up their hand to block out the Rolex emblem as they admire the brushwork on “Gastown Finn.”  They will likely admire the way the light plays off of the stray hairs of the mans’ beard.  That, after all, is what painting is all about.


Written by Kelly Reaves

November 15, 2008 at 6:25 am

2 Responses

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  1. i like your descriptions! you help me understand painting better


    December 13, 2008 at 7:55 pm

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