The Richard Levy Gallery is hosting “Modern Ruin,” an art history potpourri by painter Thomas Frontini, through Sept. 23. The nine-piece installation is filled with creamy paintings in predominantly pastel hues ranging in subject from deer and dogs to industrial detritus, including a metaphoric and dreamlike view of the artist’s studio.
Frontini is a highly skilled and dreamy painter who could be the aesthetic love child of Milton Avery and David Hockney but has adeptly sidestepped his metaphoric painterly parents to find his own niche among serious contemporary artists.
His imagery is clean, fresh and bright enough to stand tall among his peers. Frontini’s imagery evokes memories of youthful walks through the industrial wasteland of Baltimore and other Eastern Seaboard cities and their surrounding areas. Even in heavy wooded and overgrown acreage, one comes upon a section of crumbling brickwork housing the twisted metal debris of some now useless machinery.
In Frontini’s “Modern Ruin #2” a painted metal box stands upon bent legs among strewn shipping crates or stylized crystalline rocks near the shore of a large body of water. The soft, pale-blue sky and stunning, deep-turquoise water do nothing to assuage the melancholy of abandonment.
His own digs are subject to surrealist interpretation: In “The Artist’s Studio” Frontini evokes thoughts of a beautiful pastel day with a chunky gray stone and brick structure dominating the center of a large-format painting filled with Easter basket colors. A lower balcony features a large natural stone surrounded by green grass like a Paleolithic egg. Out of the rooftop grows a skyward bound spindly tree while an ibis-type bird witnesses all standing near the stone foundation.
Though his compositions are fairly simple, they are far from simple-minded. Each painting is blessed with such small details as observant birds or sailboats piloted by dogs or mysterious clouds that do not quite belong but insist on being there.
There is rewarding, albeit often ironic, visual narrative to be discovered by patient viewers throughout the show.
In Frontini’s “Breeding Pair (White Poodles), 2010,” the oldest work in the show, the artist imperils a small white dog at the helm of a sailboat by placing him on the leeside of the mainsail. In the spirit of friends don’t let dogs pilot sailboats, I admonish folks and dogs to have their backs to the wind while at the tiller to keep the keel in the water and maintain control of the sheets. A wink’s as good as a nod, mates.
In “Wind Farm” Frontini fills the far horizon with wind turbines and occupies the foreground with disembodied anomalies. On the bottom left, what appears to be a blue heron perches on a tree branch sans tree that seems to float in space. On the lower right is a long-stemmed flower. The overall image is beautiful and would be perfectly logical if seen while sleeping.
This is a very cool show that exudes intelligent intent and is well-worth a visit. I found a parking space just a few doors away.