Peter Krashes, Nov. 13-Dec. 22, 2001, at Derek Eller Gallery, 526-30 West 25th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
As many exercise addicts can attest, our current obsession with controlling our bodies has its dark side. The potentially twisted nature of training is the subject of an ambitious group of paintings by Peter Krashes. For Krashes, aerobics aren't just for everyday health or vanity. He suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and exercise keeps the disease in check. This condition gives him a greater sense than most of physical fragility.
Exercisers often watch themselves in mirrors, keeping an eye on their body's improvement. The distorting mirrors surrounding Krashes' subjects, who are seen working out on home exercise machines, hardly enhance appearances. In the paintings -- done from photographs of staged scenes, sometimes shot with a moving camera -- bodies are fragmented, limbs swell and shrink, melding and separating from objects and backgrounds, becoming monstrous. Gravity no longer applies. A foot is discernable, then a figure and another, perhaps a reflection of the first. Brushstrokes flow across canvases, performing kaleidoscopic arabesques. Icy blues and pinks play off fugitive purples and browns. As shiny mirrored light is rendered with matte oil paint, patches of white canvas give paintings the immediacy of a sketch.
In one horizontal composition, a creamy open expanse is created by ceiling and walls. In another, dark and claustrophobic, the viewpoint is towards the floor. A vertical work features a brown figure on a ski machine topped by his reflection descending from above. Little by little, staging becomes visible. People holding mirrors can be glimpsed, and furnishings are deciphered: a portrait on a wall, a bed, a blue TV, an oriental rug. Ultimately, domestic surroundings become complex arenas of baroque theatricality, as distorted space swirls like painted angels plummeting from the ceiling of an ornate church.
A different direction is explored in an image of a fragile pear tree held upright by a post, its limbs connected by wires. Glowing defiantly against a black background, the tree is illuminated by flashbulbs, like a movie star by paparazzi cameras. The trunk is too feeble to stand alone, but the leaves are fresh. Human hands that train and control their own bodies have tied up the branches of the tree and bent them in forced directions. Doctored to fit arbitrary esthetics by bondage imposed from outside, the tree represents something veiled in the other paintings: endurance through training, unnatural beauty, the living body's decay arrested.
ELISABETH KLEY is a New York artist who writes on art.