From Feb. 11 to August 6, 14 unique and distinctly stylized paintings line the walls of UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum in the exhibit, “Affinities and Variations.”
Described in a plaque at the “Affinities and Variations” exhibit entrance as a showcase that, “Pairs paintings in the museum’s collection to show visual affinities in structure, theme, technique, emphasis or palette as well as distinct variations between the two works,” the diversity of the art fits the exhibit name, as each piece is highly varied in its artistic construction and effect.
The first work seen in the exhibit is the 1949, “Clown with Blue Glove,” by the artist Karl Zerbe. The piece is sticks out among others in that it is a somber and unsettling depiction of a clown. Drawing from the movement of Abstract Expressionism, the clown oil painting centers a man in disheveled white and black suit in clown makeup and a blue glove.
The painting itself distinguishes itself among others in the collection in both artistic form and effect, as there is an incongruence between the subject of the painting and the way the painting is posturing its subject.
To look at this painting was an experience in itself, as the clown’s face, despite being in costume makeup, has a dull gray pallor and eyes that create the uncomfortable effect that it is staring back at its gazer. It is unclear whether the piece was intended to be a satirical or ironic social commentary on the nature of clowns and their place in society during the Abstract Expressionist movement, but the painting is nonetheless interesting and slightly unsettling.
The painting beside “Clown with Blue Glove,” Jacques Flechemuller’s 1995 “Maori,” follows the work in a similarly ironic thematic affect.
The variation between the two, however, is that the meaning or ironic intent is not entirely clear or necessarily deducible. The piece centers a pale woman in a yellow dress with short brown hair, piercing blue eyes and pursed lips, who also has a full-face tattoo signifying Maori indigenous identity.
The piece itself raises many questions. Is the woman shown intended to make social commentary on Indigenous assimilation, cultural appropriation or perhaps she is a representation of Flechemuller’s personal prejudices. The piece stands out among many of the more abstract pieces within “Affinities and Variations,” because there is a clear subject within the piece, but the meaning is almost impossible to definitively parse.
Unlike “Clown with Blue Glove,” and “Maori,” the two pieces that follow, “Interference” by Theodoros Stamos and “XX” by Jedediah Caesar, have an indeterminable subject and are more abstract pieces of art that focus on shape and form, rather than a human subject.
Both “Interference” and “XX” feature subdued, almost pastel color pallets and disjointed shapes, however “XX” is constructed in a more chaotic and less uniformly shaped manner than “Interference.”
With the exception of the portrait styling of “Mono-Pareja” by Ed Paschke, the next seven works in “Affinities and Variations” are similar in form to “Interference” and “XX.”
The penultimate and final works in “Affinities and Variations,” Robert Henri’s “Nude” and Theophil Groell’s “Blue Echoes” however, distinguish themselves from every other work in the exhibit, as the subjects of these works are either entirely or partially nude.
While “Nude” presents a more stylistically soft and warm rendering of a woman, both subjects present a woman looking away from their gazer. The difference, it is perhaps inferrable, that the woman in “Blue Echoes” is rendered with dull, realistic hues to appear despondent while the woman in “Nude,” is created using bright pastels to make her cheeks flush with embarrassment.
All pieces throughout the exhibit evoke a variety of feelings and set different artistic and stylistic tones. Some “Affinities and Variations” pieces may puzzle gazers in their construction and content, but ultimately, the effect of this art is worth experiencing in person.