Stevovich Conveys Today's Edginess and Ambiguity
The paintings of Andrew Stevovich, small in size and painted with meticulous glazes, evoke the jeweled techniques of medieval Flemish artists like Van der Weyden and Hans Memling. But this technique is applied to highly contemporary subject matter - to people existing in states of pensive boredom (Stevovich expresses the emptiness that is so prominent a feature of the DeCordova Museum's current Being and Nothingness show) and to scenes in which the ludicrous and the sinister intertwine. There are no extremes of emotion in this work, nevertheless it precisely conveys the edginess and ambiguity of present-day social activity.
To be sure, Stevovich is not without well fletched shafts of humor. He is one of the few artists who has perfect visual aim, as it were, neither lapsing into caricature nor depending for his effects on literary situations. In the beguilingClaire, for instance, the reflections of a glass fishbowl refract the orange stripes of the wallpaper behind the bowl and extend the stripes into the depths of the bowl, and the image is so charming that it takes a moment to note the black cat crouched in the opposite corner of the picture beside the presumed subject, Claire. The cat is dreamily contemplating the goldfish.
A critic has deemed the sensibility of Stevovich's pictures "Nabokovian," and to a degree that is accurate. The images evoke a sense of the extravagant flow of absurdity in and out of menace, of a rational illogic, a skewed reality. The novels of Vladimir Nabokov, however, relate more to a painter like Magritte, obsessed by the power of language to affect what it describes. Magritte's "This is not a pipe," written beneath a represented pipe is one of the best known aphorisms of modern art. Stevovich's paradoxes, though dealing with the same disquieting gap between image and object, do not intend to explore language.
Instead they offer a realm where bizarre actions acquire the coherence of the ordinary. In Fallen Diva, for instance, we have three separate treatments, in oil, pastel and etching, of a gaggle of men lugging a statuesque blonde on their shoulders. The pastel seems compositionally the most effective to me because the diva is larger and literally more a statue than in the smaller oil and the linear version. The Muse is receiving a ceremonial exit, but this isn't dreamlike or irrational (as it might be in a surrealist handling); it constitutes the extraordinary depicted as an everyday occurrence.
Conversely, a frieze of faces in the pastel Polo Club Lounge reveals the opposite side of the coin - the ordinary becoming the fantastic. No one is looking at anyone else. The glances in this close-up scene are furtive or sidelong; no one looks directly at anyone, hence the denial of relationship takes on a bizarre intensity. Stevovich is a story teller, but his plots lie outside the picture's frame permitting him to suggest narratives that possess high stylization and reverberant overtones. Extending his formal range to pastel has resulted in a fresh exuberance of color; the etchings are spare and cool, yet his imagination - where people wear wardrobes rhyming with the checkered decor of their rooms - is as resourceful as ever.