DAVID URBAN: Lonely Boy
Corkin Gallery, Toronto
David Urban reminds us why painting never dies… Painting was already sophisticated in a preliterate past, and even in post-literate culture, a healthy picture is still worth a thousand words. To be more accurate, the visual language of painting conveys data that words cannot express, so do music or dance.
Painting came through writing for David Urban. His academic studies in philosophy and poetry led to essays on painters and painting, which clues he then followed by taking up the brush. The Lonely Boy series characterizes visual language by playing variations on a theme. A Grecian figure is tested in each painting with different postures and colors. There’s humor similar to Gertrude Stein but without the raised eyebrows, this work is appealing rather than foreboding.
Since the 1850s we’ve known of subconscious inspirations, emotions, and visions from the depth of the mind. This creative process can disrupt but it can also heal; psychology speaks of art therapy. David acknowledges and channels this unconscious core in his work, which is why his paintings are actually healing, his colors trigger a sense of beauty, and beauty is the genesis of art therapy.
Contrary to common expectations, beauty is not a pleasure principle but an algorithm, a compressed judgmental code. As an algorithm it channels us to constructive attitudes that enhance productivity; beauty can also straighten twisted minds and bent thoughts, enhancing adaptability.
Beauty was degraded during postmodernism; a time of anti-aesthetics non-art, a rebellion against tradition, skill, and talent. But with non-art, you have no art, which people still want. The purpose of art in the home and our lives is transcendence; it literally improves our psychology, which explains why Urban’s work has a following. One reacts well to
these colors and shapes, the paintings earn their place on the wall.
Science explains how art affects emotions and feelings, how the psychology of art enriches the soul. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s study of nonverbal language says that: “every perceptual experience is accompanied by emotional coloration—an evaluation of subtle shades of good or bad, painful or pleasurable, a spectrum of cognitive and emotional
memories, providing an instant valuation and creating complexity and sophistication in the mind… Painting is no mere ‘cheesecake’ for the wall. It is instead a cultural adaptation of great significance, affecting us subliminally almost like vitamins.
-Miklos Nikolaus Legrady, Toronto March 2019
(Photos by Mikos Legrady)
INTERVIEW with David Urban:
TUSSLE: Your paintings seem like they are in a constant state of movement. Can you expand on your inner narrative for your new work, where does the title "Lonely Boy" fit in?
David Urban: The title "lonely boy" sprang to mind after a dinner party in which Andrew Gold's seventies pop masterpiece "lonely boy" had everyone singing along to its indelible, happy-sad, chorus.....please have a listen.
Also, the Paul Anka cinema verite masterpiece "Lonely Boy" (made by Roman Kroiter and Wolf Koenig for the NFB in 1962) is a personal favorite... And sometimes I'm a lonely boy, or the lonely boy is a character within these images... The figure in the painting is meant to be adaptable....to reflect my subject of a particular moment. For example, the painting titled "lonely boy" is actually a portrait of my wife painting....at the time she was working on small paintings, sitting close to the floor.....her posture and aura are meant to be reflected in the image.
The poses range from the comic to tragic; there are references to religious painting (depositions) as well as pop culture...Hitchcock...cartoons...etc. Other images are portraits; there is one of Tom Thomson...at sunset, and another dedicated to Wordsworth...and his creative process. In short, the figures are meant to be adaptable.....and just abstract enough to encompass the viewer's sympathy....absorbing a variety of interpretive possibilities...
TUSSLE: What is the importance of Modernist Abstraction to you and how do you feel your work expands on this pre-existing language of art?
DU: Modernist Abstraction has been a lifelong inspiration in every sense. I remember being moved by the imagery of Paul Klee and Mondrian when I was seven years old... I don't necessarily see my work as an expansion of this existing language but rather as personal consideration or internalization....which can lead to something new; a sensation of growth, insight.....or discovery.
TUSSLE: What does your studio practice look like, do you paint every day? When you are not in the studio, where are you most likely to be found?
DU: I paint every day....and think about painting even more. One of the principal pleasures of my life is the degree to which the "actual" world and the culture of painting have begun to blur together. I love the feeling of being liberated from language and thinking increasingly in visual terms. There is infinite beauty and invention in art....and in nature.
TUSSLE: Where do you see yourself in ten years as an artist?
DU: In ten years...five years....those kind of projections are irrelevant. To be healthy and able to continue is all...to feel gratitude.
In many ways, I feel as if starting anew after each major effort. I've realized lately how much more is possible with color...or more accurately, juxtapositions of color and I continue to think of the trajectory of great artists; Cezanne and Guston are obvious examples...here in Canada, my friend Francoise Sullivan (at 95) is painting with ageless intensity.
Many artists are able to simplify and achieve an elemental quality as time goes by....." others see their work open outwards in unbidden* (cross out startling*) ways...
I've been thinking about Wayne Shorter lately....the late Geri Allen...Henry Threadgill.....the music of each has unfolded in startling ways. This is beautiful mystery.....a tribute to the potential in all of us.