Euan Uglow at Salander-O’Reilly and the New York Studio School – New York, New York

Euan Uglow at Salander-O’Reilly and the New York Studio School – New York, New York – Review of Exhibitions

Reagan Upshaw

Euan Uglow is a product of the reforms William Coldstream instituted in the academic programs of London’s Slade School of Fine Art. Eschewing the sweetness and the penchant for anecdote which were relics of the Victorian era, Coldstream stressed an objectivity in figurative art that was at once classical and scientific in intent: the transcription of a three-dimensional subject through precise binocular observation into a two-dimensional format. The signs of the process were not to be effaced but rather left evident.

Uglow has adopted this goal. In his depictions of nudes or still lifes, traces of the initial grid surface in the painting like tiny crosshairs. In the drawings exhibited at the Studio School are small holes which appear to have been made by a compass point, while millimeter-long indentations in the paper may have been left by the metal lip of a ruler or tape measure. These impressions in the paper’s surface anchor the figures like butterflies pinned for display. There is little fluidity of line; instead, the drawings are composed of short, nervous segments overdrawn several times. A part may stand for a whole: in Wave, a drawing of a kneeling figure, the top half of the left arm and the bottom half of the right are not filled in, leaving a skeletal suggestion that the viewer must mentally complete.

Uglow’s oils show the same emphasis on process. In paintings such as Fruit Pyramid, corrections to the initial contours are not overpainted but remain as instant pentimenti. A draftsman’s sensibility prevails; the paint is applied flat, with little impasto. Uglow has a superb color sense, which I suspect derives ultimately from Matisse. The color transitions are left abrupt enough to be “modern,” and there is just enough modulation in tone and modeling to suggest three dimensions while not insisting on illusionism.

Comparisons with Uglow’s contemporary Lucien Freud are inevitable, at least for this season in New York. Both artists work with traditional studio subject matter but seek untraditional results. Freud’s models tend to resemble concentration camp victims or are grossly fleshy; Uglow’s models are young, attractive women but are rendered in a neutral fashion. Freud’s brushwork is expressionistic; Uglow’s is flat. Freud’s palette, even today, partakes of the dinginess of postwar London; Uglow’s use of pastel and primary colors keeps his canvases bright. In our day, Freud’s ugliness is seen as truth and, in a Keatsian equation, therefore beautiful, while the attractiveness and frankly academic nature of Uglow’s work is more suspect. Yet the rigor of vision that infuses these works permits the viewer, even in this Puritan nation, to admire them without guilt.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group