July 19, 2006
The Wallace Gallery, 37A Main Street (at Park Place) East Hampton, Nudes by Bob Markell & Ben Stahl.
Once upon a time, reflects gallery and frame shop owner Terry Wallace, "Ruth [Vered], Arlene [Bujese] and I pretty much had the East Hampton gallery scene to ourselves." He goes way back, and it may therefore be a wistful day in the not-too-distant future when this long-time East Hampton presence scales down his gallery from three rooms to, perhaps, one — what he had when he started out many years ago.
Change is much on Terry Wallace's mind — but also on his walls. Known primarily for buying and selling 19th and early 20th century American art, Terry Wallace is pleased to be exhibiting Bob Markell and Ben Stahl, both contemporaries — "I don't usually do this, but I know them and they are special."
Putting their paintings of nudes together (in separate rooms) — 21 elegantly painted upper torsos by Stahl, 35 free-form full figure monotypes by Markell — was an inspired decision. The differences between the artists invite neither contrast nor comparison but rather fuller appreciation of each — Markell's patterning of figure and background, Stahl's subtle light, Markell's ability to work fast from live models, Stahl's month-long photo-assisted renderings, as Wallace notes.
Before he became a full-time painter and printmaker, Bob Markell was a much-admired art director, production designer and producer of television series, movies and mini series, counting among his many achievements Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Producer Guild and a Christopher Award for work that includes Twelve Angry Men and The Honeymooners.
During this period, however, he was always painting and being widely exhibited. Viewers who attended the Artists Alliance show at Ashawagh Hall earlier this month saw his gold-colored contour etching of a nude. Other etchings — female forms surrounded by intricate fabric designs — can be seen in a Wallace Gallery rack, but the heart of the exhibit are Markell's monotypes, executed between 1997 and 1998.
Made from painting done on glass that is then pressing onto paper, each monotype delivers what its name promises: a one-shot original. The monotypes also show Markell's distinctive brushwork — smears that look a bit like line-flow finger painting, wash effects and colorful, textured rhythmic sweeps that suggest a paint sketch.
Markell positions his models in boudoirs in various stages of undress, taking off bras, long stockings, shirts, women of the demimonde perhaps. They sit on beds rich in tapestry-like floral detail that is repeated in flowering plants nearby. Pubis exposed, head down, facial expression barely discernible, they are perfectly composed in their settings.
Perhaps the most unusual Ben Stahl on display in the Wallace Gallery front room is the upper-body nude of an older woman, striking with her short gray hair, unmade-up face turned down in quiet contemplation and breasts prominently exposed. The son of a famous painter and illustrator with the same name, Benjamin Stahl shows his artistic roots with meticulous brushwork and dramatic lighting. Among several compelling pieces — all of ordinary people who agreed to pose — one stands out: a favorite model's back, her light-inflected red hair curling down her back like textured fabric. The different women, impressive in their imperfections, reveal Stahl as an extraordinary craftsman of the ordinary.
Of course, Terry Wallace hopes that visitors to East Hampton will see this exhibit even though parking problems are making gallery-going in town especially hazardous this year, the result of some young traffic control officers with attitude, bent on aggressive ticketing. He feels confident, however, that his "regular customers" will continue to come in for 19th and early 20th century pieces, and he is encouraged by comments so far that his new direction is also welcome.
Look for further surprises later in the season, he says, including an exhibition of the work of Caroline M. Bell (d.1970), "one of the earliest women impressionist painters on the East End (North Fork)" whose lineage goes back to one of Long Island's founding families. The current exhibit runs through July 27.