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March 15 - April 15, 2006 at FIG, Santa Monica

by Nancy Kay Turner

Hello," 2005, oil/canvas, 70 x 70”.

"Old Razor," 2005, oil on canvas, 11 x 14".

"Tennis Ball," 2004/05,
oil on canvas, 6 x 6".

"Shaving Brush and Cream, Alarm Clock
and Cup," 2005, oil on canvas, 11 x 14".
Martin Lubner’s exhibit of paintings and mixed-media work entitled “Still and other lives” continues his exploration of humble subject matter.  Lubner often isolates a single common object and, through intense focus, suggests a narrative.  His title slyly asserts that even the lowliest of still-life objects inhabits a world of their own.  In the small piece entitled “Tape Measure” (8” x 10”), and the even smaller “Tennis Ball” (6” x 6”), what you see is what you get--almost.  As in many of the ordinary objects that Lubner paints, there is both a sense of time and implied action.  Unused, both the ball and the tape measure remain stolidly still and in repose.  But they point to human interaction and motion--the playing of a tennis game, the construction of a stretcher bar, or the installation of paintings.  Lubner invests each of these everyday things with a dignity and monumentality thanks to the  sensuous, thick, and viscous paint handling, which is reminiscent of Philip Guston’s poignant late works.  Though a figurative painter Lubner is an abstractionist at heart, rejoicing in the juicy manipulation of oil paint.

In another small painting, “Shaving Brush and Cream, Alarm Clock and Cup” Lubner jams each of these objects next to each other, cheek by jowl, paying homage to Morandi’s dense still-life compositions.  This painting is a paean to our daily morning ritual and ablutions. The juxtaposition of the outmoded shaving brush and cup (from the barbershop of yore), next to the contemporary foam spray can, only accentuates the passage of time and conveys a melancholy hint of nostalgia.  The painting is both crude and exquisite, with hints of Rothko-like simplicity.  In the bottom third of the painting, Lubner slathers luscious salmon-colored paint, and then elegantly borders it with a slash of red.

The bridge between abstraction and figuration is never more evident than in the painting entitled “Old Razor.”  An old-fashioned, well–worn strap razor is graphically drawn in stark black and white.  It is set against a highly textured grayish-mauve surface that is streaked with blood red marks.  A green surface-–also streaked with red--abuts the edge of the mauve and creates a marvelous vertical composition that is subtle yet dramatic.  The real pleasure here is in the vital brushwork and vivid color.

Moving from the small and intimate to the larger and more universal, the allegorical painting entitled “Hello” has political and social overtones.  There are three men standing shoulder to shoulder (not unlike the still life objects), each dressed in similar blue work clothes.  The man on the left holds a red hose, the middle man (who looks a bit like Stalin) wields a shovel, and the third, a red-haired man, tenderly holds a little, brown, naked baby.  At their feet is a grey dog with an almost human expression and countenance.  One wonders who these men are and what are they doing with the baby?  Do they represent the many immigrants who have come here, whom through their hard work have earned a piece of the American Dream?

The men stand together united, looking directly at the viewer.  Behind them is a grand vista of gorgeous hills, lush cacti, and other vegetation that could be on the San Diego-Tijuana border.  We do see the encroachment of houses into this lovely canyon.  It is an enigmatic image that paradoxically refers to both the past and the future.  In this image, so much larger and more confrontational than the smaller works, Lubner may be giving us a cautionary tale.  Living in Southern California, one cannot help but ruminate on the current plight of the many legal and illegal immigrants who are the underclass. Like all of Lubner’s work, large and small, there is a tale here to be teased out by the viewer.  Lubner’s work--the very antithesis of eye candy--requires you to think and feel for yourself.