Heavy Metal

Tom Gregg, Stack of Lemons (2010), oil on panel, 23″ x 21-1/2″; courtesy George Billis Gallery

* * *

I took my students–or, as I overheard a snippy dealer describe them, “the children”–to Chelsea last week. The class started at Gary Snyder Project Space and made its way west and south through twenty some galleries, finishing at Pace Gallery’s 25th Street outposts. We encountered a noticeable preponderance of metallic and iridescent paint: sometimes employed to skillful decorative purpose, but mostly pimped for its readymade sparkle, sheen and bite.

What’s the deal:  did Pearl Paint or Janovic Plaza have a clearance sale on aluminum paint? Metallic pigments are off-putting in patina–I mean, when was the last time you were seduced by the dull luster of your radiator? Artists using the stuff are out for the cheap effect or lazy. The point of painting (or one of the points, anyway ) is  to drum up a sense of light through deftly articulated shifts in color and value.

That’s what Tom Gregg is up to in a series of still-life paintings at George Billis Gallery. The pictures are icy in temper and facile to a fault, but Gregg’s skills are impressive, his palette bracingly clinical and his compositional sense crystalline. Any artist who brings to mind Willem Kalf without embarrassing himself has got to have something going on.

Gregg paints a mean lemon. Wonder how he fares with metal surfaces–done in non-iridescent, honest-to-goodness oil paint, of course.

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