Uncomfortably Numb

Chris Bergeron, Daily News Staff, MetroWest Daily News, October 25, 2007


As if glimpsed through gasoline vapors, a crowd of blank-faced people shuffle into a neon bright subway station gazing listlessly toward nothing in particular.Trapped amid the crowd, only one woman sneaks a look toward us with darting, anxious eyes. That just might be painter Andrew Stevovich sharing unsettling reveries through his haunting canvases.

A representative spectrum of Stevovich's distinctive paintings opened yesterday at the Danforth Museum of Art.
The exhibit, "Andrew Stevovich: Solitary Demons," features 32 variously sized paintings and preliminary sketches that, according to Executive Director Katherine French, confirm his status as a "world-class artist."
Over the years the Northborough resident has mastered a signature style that conveys the anomie and sense of confinement of Franz Kafka in distinctive tableaux of haunting power.

French organized the exhibit, often pairing preparatory sketches and finished works side-by-side to show Stevovich's creative process. She compared his work to George Tooker, a New Yorker born in 1920, often described as a "magical realist" who depicts eerie scenes of alienation in subways, cafeterias and boarding houses."Andrew Stevovich is unique. He paints in a representative style but doesn't always portray a world we know. His view and outlook is very complex and very mysterious. But we can't look away," French said.

The show runs through Dec. 2. Stevovich will make three appearances at the museum in connection with the show. He will attend a book signing Sunday, Oct. 28, at 3 p.m. when he'll sign copies of "Andrew Stevovich: Essential Elements," a lavishly illustrated retrospective of his career that includes essays and interviews.
He will attend a noon gallery talk Wednesday, Oct. 31, and a members' preview reception Thursday evening, Nov. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Born in Austria in 1948 but raised in Washington, D.C., Stevovich earned degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design and the Massachusetts College of Art. Since 1971 he has shown his work in more than 30 solo exhibitions and dozens of group shows. Throughout his career, he has created on canvas a minimalist parallel universe of lumpish people engaged in seemingly normal activities yet strangely numb as if longing for connection.

A master technician, Stevovich renders his scenes with the flattened perspective of Renaissance paintings that heightens his characters' sense of being crowded together yet locked in cocoons of solitude.
But instead of nativity scenes in Gothic cathedrals, he paints eerie narratives of domestic inertia and public alienation where strangers remain strange to one another. In a 1990 oil on linen titled "Teodoro," a couple embraces nose to nose, looking beyond one another with empty eyes. In "Red Snapper" from 1994, a waitress serves a customer an unappetizing plate of fish while they look past each other with pickerel eyes.

Several of Stevovich's paintings in the Danforth convey a sense of menace. Viewers must decide for themselves whether the enigmatic figures in his paintings control their fates or are mere playthings of forces they don't recognize. A woman with a cold Mona Lisa smile manipulates a puppet dressed in a suit and tie. In "Tattoo," a woman blandly tattoos the beginning of a face on the face of a man resembling Stevovich. A more recent painting, the "Demon Patty Cake" from 1999, depicts a red-faced devil and a woman exchanging lewd smiles while playing a child's game.

Despite their seeming austerity, Stevovich's canvases burble with buried energy like volcanoes about to erupt.
They deserve a close look. But be forewarned, the explosions might hit closer to home than you think.