Written by Susan Boulanger for Art New England, May/June 2011
Children clambering on sea-washed boulders, a fly-fisherman midcast and midstream, quartets of musicians in rapt rehearsal-each rendered vividly, tenderly, realistically, in a call to the here and now, to the gesture that constitutes lived experience. The contemporary realist paintings in Duets-Theme and Variation, Warren Prosperi’s selection of paired images at Vose Galleries (May 16-June 25, 2011), offer everyday New England sites and activities as focal points for time-dissolved absorption-meditations on time, seeing and being.
A long, venerated tradition of American realism-not interrupted but augmented by Americans’ fascination with photography-runs through Alfred Bierstadt, Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, Alice Neel, and Andy Warhol, among others. Where edgy or ironic subject matter has most recently been used as the bona fides of this stylistic choice, Prosperi turns to older sources for confirmation of the power of perceptual realism, a power once rooted in the conception of the physical world as the revelation of the divine. In exploring the fall of light on objects and figures in naturally rendered environments, Prosperi exalts values of clarity, simplicity and directness familiar in Jan Vermeer and other masters of the form.
In a modern touch, the paired images provide an almost cinematically shifting vantage on what the overall sequence illustrates: ways of being and living in the world. The two figures in Conversation by the Sea (Bass Rocks, Gloucester) I and II, for example, alternately huddle together and range apart, the two views suggesting the dualities of our human resources-social, individual, expressive, inward-in the face of nature’s control of our physical and psychic well-being.
Rather than exploiting or resolving the conflicting impulses of replication and idealization, the artist embraces them as equally valid ways and traditions of seeing and visual expressing. In Museum Epiphany I and II, for example, two women stand together and yet apart, each isolated from the other in her absorption in the museum’s ice-white fragments of Greek marble. The sculptures, with their purity of volume and plane, are compelling and suggestive in their timeless, remote solidity, and beauty, but less so than the warm, thoughtful, protean women who contemplate them.