Monday, January 12, 2015

The Soulful Subjects of Mary Qian

I stumbled upon these three paintings by Mary at Ann Nathan Gallery yesterday, and it occurred to me that this was a good time to write a brief panegyric on her behalf.

First -- because these paintings were outstanding.  Denser, somehow,  than her earlier work that I've seen at the club over the past 10 years.

And second -- because I fear that Mary may never get a retrospective - or even a solo show - here in Chicago in the foreseeable future. So I may as well just write about her now.

 Her work just doesn't have much in common with what this gallery, or any other Chicago gallery, can sell and therefore show in contemporary figurative art.  And even less in common with  galleries elsewhere that specialize in  popular realism and Western Art.

I don't know whether Mary is a woman of faith -- but she paints like she's living in the 16th-17th Century, when faith was a matter of life-and-death, and the great painters, like Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco,  and Velasquez felt compelled to reveal human souls.

That's what Mary does : she reveals the soul of her subjects -- as if it still really mattered.  You almost want to weep as you feel the drama in the characters that she is depicting.  The despair - the tenacity - the idealism -  the sorrow - the confusion - the destiny.

This kind of painting has great technical challenges  because it's not just about self expression. And as everyone knows, Mary is a fanatic for techniques.  She always wants to learn one more. But  obviously, for her, techniques are the means, not the ends.

Someday, this kind of painting will probably  be considered  as contemporary as it was 400 years ago because it's subject will always be compelling.

But for now, it's made,  shown, and appreciated at the margins of the contemporary art world.


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