“George Dureau Makes a Riveting Return to the Palette”, by Roger Green

George Dureau Makes a Riveting Return to the Palette


George Dureau: paintings; Clyde Connell; paintings and sculptures; and Wellington Reiter:

George Dureau, Caryatids

environmental installation; all at the Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Magazine St., through April 22.

The Arthur Roger Gallery’s splendid new headquarters at 432 Magazine St. includes three connected exhibition spaces, each for displaying a different kind of art.

The lofty front gallery accommodates large paintings and sculptures, while the progressively smaller center and rear galleries feature progressively more diminutive two- and three-dimensional works. The rear gallery is also intended to house environmental installations.

The three inaugural exhibits at the gallery are tailor-made to the three exhibition spaces. Filling the front gallery are big new oil paintings of nudes by George Dureau. In the center gallery are mixed-media paintings and relief sculptures by Clyde Connell. Occupying the oblong rear gallery is an untitled environmental installation by Wellington Reiter.

Dureau, who during recent years has channeled his considerable energy into photography, says that the heroic nudes in the new exhibit signal a return to painting as his principal means of expression. His bravura new oils thus reflect urgent personal feelings that far outstrip the new paintings’ subjects or style.

Viewers who know his earlier work will discover much that is familiar in the current show. As in the past, Dureau portrays both male and female nudes — faultlessly proportioned specimens as well as amputees and dwarfs — both individually and in groups of three.

As in the past, too, the painted figures are vehicles for a private mythology, which mixes classical antiquity with the artist’s contemporary experience in New Orleans, including intense, enduring relationships with models often found in the streets.

The double-edged quality of this mythology, which at its best attempts to discover the poetry in contemporary life, focuses attention on some of the historical sources of Dureau’s new paintings, in particular works by the 19th-century French painter Edouard Manet.

Besides continuing Manet’s search for the eternal in the transitory, Dureau adopts and refines the Frenchman’s reductive painting technique. Manet is known for flattening and simplifying his figures, for abbreviating interior modeling and sharpening silhouettes. Dureau’s new paintings develop these qualities, featuring layers of loose, filmy-looking brushwork, relatively thinly (and often dryly) applied, in trailing directional strokes. The undulating brushstrokes exactly describe the figures’ musculature, imbuing the pictures with a sense of measured but immediate flair.

Yet overall, the paintings are characterized by an unfinished appearance, which engages attention by giving the viewer only the minimum information needed for the figures to “read” as being volumetric. Teetering seductively on the edge of three-dimensional certainty, Dureau’s new paintings are finely tuned creations whose continued execution should certainly enhance his reputation and career.