Figurative Paintings



    The scenes depicted in Leibovitz’s paintings have a photo-journalistic quality – a single shot of a drama unfolding before the viewer’s eyes.  These dramas are sometimes disturbing and compelling, some times peaceful and serene.  Each unfolds against a background that is highly surrealistic: a field, hill or  mountain of egg-shaped forms in various colors;  a sky of tumultuous roiling clouds; an urban landscape of strange, semi-realistic, high-rise buildings;  a grid of squares, reminiscent of the tile work on the walls of the New York subway, but with each square overlain with a color gradient, from dark to light, so that the tiles seem to curve off the surface and glow.

    Despite their deceptive simplicity and apparent playfulness, these images stir within us complex, deeply realistic feelings – the kind of feelings typically associated more with our dreamworld than with our everyday lives.  A grim subject may be executed in such a playful manner in both palette and composition as to make the viewer wince and grin, simultaneously. They thus confront us with a set of paradoxes which cannot be readily resolved in words, yet are unavoidable in the experiencing of the paintings.  It is, in part, these emotional paradoxes that make his work so engaging.  Without captions – all of the paintings are untitled – the story that is unfolding is left entirely to the viewer’s imagination.

    Taken as a whole, this body of work is  a series of windows into a variety of different individual events, each taking place in a somewhat bizarre, yet vaguely familiar and entirely coherent reality.  Like the residents of Yoknapatawpha County in Faulkner’s novels, the people who populate Leibovitz’s art are clearly genetically and ethnically related -- kinfolk, with similar faces, body-types, postures and clothing –  inhabiting a fantastic yet internally consistent landscape –  one which only exists in and emerges from the mind, heart and soul of the artist himself, and which he himself only discovers and explores through the act of its creation.

    In April 2002, Daryl Mak, a choreographer, conceived and directed a highly unusual, imaginative, and emotionally moving dance-theater performance inspired by Leibovitz’s work.  This piece recreated the two-dimensional images of Leibovitz’s paintings and drawings into the three-dimensional space of the theater bringing to life in yet another medium the character and spirit of his unique style and subject matter.

Excerpts from  A monograph, The Art of Orlando Leibovitz

Photo and text by Sandor Brent, Ph. D.

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