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May 17 - June 15, 2003 at Square Blue Gallery, Orange County

by Daniella Walsh

As artists are looking for novel ways of expression, the chances of finding something truly new have shrunk to near nothing. Some enterprising creators have thus found the future in the past. As part of the ongoing revival of painting in all its permutations, portraiture is also becoming hip. Young painters in particular are not only making portraits to present a likeness, but to make a statement about their subjects’ psyche and, by extension, their own.

Bradford J. Salamon has experimented with various forms of drawing and painting and for now at least, has found his niche in portraiture. Over the past year he has created a body of work that portrays some of the key players in the Orange County art scene. Even though wags claim that there is little of that here, Salamon has found enough subjects--artists, writers, art educators, gallery owners and collectors--to fill a gallery with a show he calls Orange County Tastemakers. The tongue in cheek title stems from a 2001 Jed Perl article in the New Republic, where he labeled the likes of Peggy Guggenheim and Alfred Barr as "Tastemakers."

Salamon's painting style varies. He tends to paint mostly men (very few women) with the energy and vigor, but without the gravity, of German Expressionists. At times he slathers paint onto canvas with broad, deft strokes, capturing the subject's features and the way they absorb and reflect light in few strokes. In fact, one of Salamon's strong points is the placement of highlights and the creation of texture.

Occasionally, his brushwork is a bit too enthusiastic; some subtle blending would add rather than diffuse dramatic impact. Then again, he changes direction and depending on his subject (primarily women), refines texture, flattens light and adds highly defined details of expression and dress reminiscent of Manet or Sargent.

His enthusiasm for the project is evident; thirty-five works to date and more in the offing. In lesser hands this might become a dull factory production or deteriorate into stylistic self-parody. Instead, each portrait is uniquely compelling.
Eschewing backgrounds for the most part, he concentrates instead on the sitter's face and, at times, full figure. With quasi-psychic insight, he captures personal idiosyncrasies regardless of the facade a sitter may wish to present. Whether he works from photographs he has taken or a live sitting, the results are, for the most part, absorbing.

Looking at Salamon's portrayals of women one might note that, for him, chivalry is very much alive. He has a tendency to flatter, but also displays wit in placing his subjects. For example, he puts art critic Roberta Carasso into a rocking chair. Slightly androgynous in spite of her wearing a dress, she looks as if she is critiquing the viewer. Her haughty look thus playfully counteracts the rocker. Then again, Irene Hofmann, a curator freshly migrated from a waterlogged Mid-West, does a "singin' in the rain" number under a large umbrella.

“Pat Sparkuhl,” 2002,
o/c, 36 x 24”.

“Roberta Carasso” 2002,
o/c, 36 x 24”.

“Irene Hofmann,” 2002,
o/c, 36 x 24”.

“Jamie Wilson,” 2002,
o/c, 36 x 24”.

The exhibit also contains several drawings, ranging from elaborate to sketchy that further evidence Salamon’s ability to "get into his subject's head." With a few well-chosen lines he conveys self-confidence, uneasiness or even glamour. Then again, proportions--particularly hands and feet--vex him at times. However, he succeeds when he tweaks perspective, as in his portrait of leather-clad, Shirley McLaine-ish, Square Blue doyenne, Jamie Wilson.

Save for a some minor shortcomings, this exhibit shows that, while he assiduously studies older masters such as Manet, Sargent, Chaim Soutine, Alice Neel or Lucian Freud, Salamon's work exudes a freshness and energy that is strictly his own.