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|Souvenirs of Paris
by Ilka Scobie
|David Saunders, "Paris," Sept. 7-30, 2000, at Fischbach, 24 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the various elements at a painter's disposal for the expression of his feelings.
-- Henri Matisse
David Saunders has been busy. He has a total of 18 public sculptures at sites ranging from Tokyo Symphony Hall to a Bronx firehouse, and his apple-themed painted metal fence along the roundabout at La Guardia Airport brings a smile to thousands of passengers rushing through. He has recently showed his paintings and drawings in Chicago and Paris. Now, with his debut exhibition at Fischbach in New York, Saunders presents a series of dazzling and subtle works that glorify and romanticize simple Francophile pleasures.
New York native, Saunders has been showing extensively for the past two decades. He recently spent a year in Paris under the patronage of a Socialist philanthropic group called Cite International des Arts. He calls his Paris paintings "a record of my awareness." Freed by his 1960s roots of the moralistic foreboding of Flemish fathers of the artist's still life, Saunders sees his work imbued with a psychedelic "awe of consciousness."
Unsurprisingly, he cites Matisse, Picasso and Braque as inspirations. "Every day, I'd find something I wanted to render realistically," Saunders explains. A chocolate fondant, pastry or cheese wedge became the basis for what the artist sees as "decorated rectangles." Thus, objects are counterpointed against collaged or incised backgrounds that have something of the quality of lace or decorated cut-paper stencils.
The dozen watercolors on cut paper and collages (created in his Paris studio) evolved to the oils (done back home), where his formula of accurate reflection poetically juxtaposes with the implied narrative. Festin Pour Moineaux, a watercolor collage, with a kitsch print of the Eiffel Tower as centerpiece, is embellished with three torn hunks of baguette, replete with crumbs and two benign cutout sparrows. How the simple composition manages to be both decorative and compelling is Saunders' particular skill.
Harmony of color and form is again echoed in Brioche, where three plump little pastries, ready for devouring, are placed upon an intricate pastoral celadon. The larger oils reflect Saunders' Parisian experiences, as well as his New York life, and share naturalistic colors and a subtle optimism.
Las Jardinerre immortalizes gardening implements of the artist's wife, including clogs, gloves, hat, spade and watering can. The harvest is a full onion basket, while an elegantly silhouetted nude woman stoops to the earth in a pastel fantasy of sky blue and pale green.
Metaphor abounds in Providence. Again, the same muted hues and incised canvas depict clams, both opened and shut, that were gathered at a nearby beach. Two embryonic blue babies float along the bottom canvas, and a bountifully breasted mother, in magnificent profile, ponders her choices.
Pain au Trompée or Bread of the Deceived frames a ménage à trois, with a sad golden girl in the middle anchored by diagonal baguettes and a hunk of Poilane, a round peasant bread. The large painted aluminum Printemps is a welded screen, echoing the same freely associated bird and twig theme seen in many of the paintings. The inclusion of a three dimensional piece, painted to look like one of the cutouts, is a gracefully cohesive touch.
Saunders' latest explorations of the decorative and symbolic idiom of still life abound in tender mysteries and abundant beauty. His self-styled "conceptual realism" is a style that is both Postmodernist and romantic, more heroic than saccharin. Inherent respect for his subjects is balanced by his finely honed hand. David Saunders greets the new art season with a virtuosity that is both classical and absolutely contemporary.
ILKA SCOBIE is a native New Yorker who writes poetry and art criticism.