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November 30 - December 21, 2002 at Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County

by Roberta Carasso

Benchmarks of greatness have long been established by art historical masters; for contemporary painters, these standards seem almost impossible to surpass or even match. The question for today's artists--those who work in a realist, pre-Modern mode, using varnishes, glazes, layering and painstaking methods to achieve naturalistic rendering of form--is how to translate traditional methods into a 21st century genre? Jorg R. Dubin has not yet reached that exalted level, yet his mesmerizing, existential approach to formal portraiture conveys what a Rembrandt or a Caravaggio cannot, a contemporary psychological edge. Dressed in today's relaxed garb, Dubin's portraits communicate a modern persona with its sense of freedom, individualism, naturalness, and angst.

A master of intimacy and technique, the artist infuses these paintings with the sense that you have entered a personal space without permission, as people unmask themselves to reveal their private rather than their public selves. Central to Dubin's frank and to the point renderings is his traditional method, known as Indirect Painting. The painter begins with a general mapping out of the canvas in gray tones or grisaille. With each stage, he builds under- and overcoats of glazes and varnishes and layer upon layer of color. Shapes and edges are developed as the canvas goes from general values to more specific details. But here tradition stops. Unpretentious backgrounds of rectangular blocks of subdued, institutional greens, blue greens or blue grays fill an almost empty room to become walls and floor. Tight color values establish the atmosphere--intense, stark, blunt, and chalky--allowing us to hone in on the uniqueness of each full-figure or head-shot portrait. The background also frames and isolates the portrayed by decreasing the depth and pushing the figure into the foreground.

“American Gothic Revisited,”
2002, oil on linen, 72 x 58”.

“Girl with an Unlit Candle,”
2002, oil on linen, 72 x 58”.

“The Healer,”
2002, oil on linen, 72 x 58”.

Ordinary people are transformed into riveting and timeless characters. Each settles in his or her own natural pose--leaning against the wall, slouched or flopped in a chair, and endless other varieties of body positions. With meticulous virtuosity, yet with loose and free brushstrokes, Dubin captures the essence of each sitter, particularly the eyes. Each stares as if watching us as much as we watch them. 

The Healer is a local yoga teacher, a warm inviting man whose eyes tell much about his depth of understanding. Sitting with bent knees cradled in a chair, the teacher seems to exude an ageless, hypnotic wisdom. Hyperion with Tools is an electrician holding a lighted fluorescent bulb. Named after an ancient god of light, he is adorned in workman's regalia--denim shirt with company name on the pocket, tools at his waist, legs astride, and a biblical gaze that seems to say "Let there be light." As with all Dubin's characters, we know him, even if we have never met.

Among the most compelling works is a tongue-and-cheek self-portrait of Dubin himself, Mr. Pink Sweeps Up. Dressed in a jumpsuit, sporting a slouched cap, Dubin, a rather sophisticated man, assumes a down-to-earth, everyman stance, and on canvas becomes a janitor pushing a broom. Two powerful headshots stand out, the art critic Rebecca Schoenkopf and the art collector Igal Silber. Both penetrating gazes observe us with the same insight with which they scrutinize a work of art.

Typically, Dubin allows his subjects to select a "normal" (standing, sitting, or lying down) pose, except in the case of Shadow of a Man, which is among Dubin's most demanding works. The painting is about vanity and superficiality, the uniform, manicured, almost look-alike appearance of a type of Southern California woman. She wears a short black cocktail dress and spaghetti strapped heels, and rests her head on the edge of a hassock as her legs brace upward against a wall. In a somewhat upside-down crucifix posture, her woven blond hair flows downward; the rush of blood flushes her face and she strains to look upward at something, but not us. Awkwardness, bordering on grotesque, transforms her primped, powdered, and ideal appearance into an architectural structure rather than a nurturing human being. Positioned against gravity, the woman's torso and bosom fall forward and her valued looks are distorted. Thus, by repositioning the carefully manicured body, Dubin deflates the façade of pretense.

With enormous painterly skill, sure brushstrokes, compositional and color tensions, Dubin cuts through to the core, presenting humans as profoundly tender beings or dark subjects, which achieves the transference of the traditional into the 21st Century.