New York Observer: October 12, 2005

Renoir Redeemed

by Mario Naves


In his first solo New York exhibition, Ken Kewley does the impossible: He redeems Renoir, the man who painted the world—and, most famously, the buxom young women residing in it—as if everything were spun from cotton candy. On the north wall of Lori Bookstein Fine Art, you’ll find six small collages by Mr. Kewley in which he elaborates on paintings by the French artist.
Through the cutting and pasting of paper, Mr. Kewley confers solidity and definition upon Renoir’s fleshy sfumato. Hard-edged geometric elements coalesce into recognizable images, intimating physical form without making it concrete. Remember the plaint that compared Cubism to “an explosion in a shingle factory”? Picture it on a miniaturist scale and you’ll have some idea of what Mr. Kewley is up to.
The manner of the collages is meticulously self-effacing, allowing shifts in value and color to overshadow materials and process. Indeed, color is his true gift. Sophisticated modulations of closely valued tones make for rich and spacious pictures. In Young Girl with Daisies (after Renoir) (2005), Mr. Kewley offsets and enlivens a virtually monochromatic image with a range of purples, greens and blues. It is, in its own quiet way, a bravura performance.
Notwithstanding the pithy, graphic character of his style (he’s clearly a fan of Stuart Davis and Patrick Henry Bruce), there’s a fulsome and organic sensuality brought to bear on the pictures. I would argue, in fact, that Mr. Kewley beats Renoir at his own game, largely because the pictures embrace rather than glance upon desire. That it is art and not flesh prompting Mr. Kewley’s yearnings only makes his achievement all the more witty and appealing.
Ken Kewley: Collages is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 37 West 57th Street, until Oct. 28.


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