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by Andy Brumer

Brian Novatny, “Man in
Grey Suit & Yellow Chair,”
oil/watercolor, 25 x 13”, 2000.

Brian Novatny, “Woman in
Yellow Shirt Suspended,”
oil/panel, 11 x 13”, 2000.
(Frumkin/Duval Gallery, Santa Monica) Young New Yorker Brian Novatny’s oil and watercolor on panel paintings present emotionally ambiguous, psychologically charged figures set in small, claustrophobically cropped spaces. He starkly renders men and women with a blend of American primitivism, European mainstream modernism and Eastern European folk art. They are caught in mid-stride in various positions of walking or gesturing. On the borderline of minimalism, every inch of these works resonates with mystery and complexity. In one painting, for example, a stout Leger-like woman, rigid and flat in form and stultified in motion, wanders somnambulistically away from a voluptuously puffed red love seat. The chair seems so animated, it wants to pivot on its four legs and retreat in an opposite, more joyous, direction.

In another work, a young man wearing bright yellow pants vigorously strides across the panel with a somewhat vacant, though agitated stare that bespeaks of the private and potent pull of introspection. Behind him a Matisse-like pattern of wallpaper flowers dance delightly, again creating an odd but clearly calculated contrast to the figure’s cryptically cool countenance.

The fact that Novatny’s figures find themselves cramped into such confining spaces seems to pump each piece with a kind of explosively compressed potential. You can sense that at any moment you might be overwhelmed by the depth and outpouring of each figure’s story.

Veteran ceramic artist David Furman offers a series of wildly inventive, though charming ‘tea pots’ all informed by and referencing South American (specifically pre-Colombian and Peruvian Moche) erotic vessels. The artist has fired each brightly colored porcelain piece into stacked and trompe l’oeil styled fruits and vegetables that assume vibrantly organic tea pot configurations.

With firm bananas, cucumbers, eggplants, etc. serving as each tea pot’s spout, one need not question the obvious sexual allusion and reference. However, by grafting this blatantly phallic imagery onto the rounded, plump melons and pumpkins that serve as the tea pots’ actual vessels, Furman brilliantly integrates and composes archetypal masculine and feminine imagery into elegant pieces of surprising innocence. Pulsing with references to both pre-Colombian artifacts and present-day Latin American folk crafts, these works refresh the senses, while connecting you to echoes of historical sculptural fertility symbols from eras and cultures around the globe.

One must marvel at the artist’s virtuosity in mimicking so realistically the surface and irregular pattern of, say, a cob of corn and the color subtleties of a squash. Finally, however, it is the tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition of the unthinkable variety of living things energetically propelled into being via the mystery of sex itself against the civilizing and ceremonious practice of serving tea that infuses these works with a a spirit of intelligence, humor and life-affirming celebration.

David Furman, “Lascivious Libertine,”
ceramic, 13 x 6.5 x 17”, 2000.

David Furman, “Lascivious Libertine,”
ceramic, 13 x 6.5 x 17”, 2000.