Artist captures other artists' lives on his canvas

Art: An exhibit at Sascha's focuses on portraits that include artists' instruments of expression and their studios.

Fine arts

January 16, 2001|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

John David, whose moody paintings of artists and musicians are on view at Sascha's restaurant on Charles Street through the end of February, maintained a studio in New York for many years before relocating to rural West Virginia.

Recently, I spoke to the artist about the sources of his haunting imagery and what he hopes to achieve.

"The show is an expression of my feelings about artists and music," said David, who also worked as a jazz musician during the nearly quarter century he lived in New York. "A lot of the paintings in the Sascha's show are ones that I worked on over a long period of time, seven or eight years.

"The most important pieces to me are the ones I call the "Kunstler" paintings, the images of the artist surrounded by his studio and paints. I'm trying to achieve a kind of figurative art that also has this strange amount of abstract painting going on, too. So I keep coming back to that figure of the "Kunstler" that has been obsessing me for 30 years."

David says his paintings are part of a continuing process of evolution toward discovering his own vision and voice.

"It's a struggle to not redo what's already been done in art, but that's really the only way to get there," he says.

"You can't get there in just one painting that will be perfect, that will express everything you feel about life. That doesn't happen. You have to paint hundreds of pictures to get to that one, and so that's what these paintings at Sascha's are about, too - about this struggle with the figure, and using it to interpret what I feel."

For David, his growth as an artist is intimately tied with the process of painting. "Each painting is a struggle to the next painting - that's what it's about," he says. "The great idea is never to quit painting, not till you're gone. Artists just have this thing that they have to do. The only horrible part is how do I get money for this. That's when you get hooked up with businesses and galleries and slides and shows, all of which can be very expensive."

David is 53, and the years have given him a clearer perspective on his life as an artist and the elusive goal of success.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm younger, then sometimes it's like, yeah, I'm 53," he says. "But always I'm trying to regain that feeling from when I first started painting - like when you're a child and don't have a clue, which is what creativity is all about before it gets stifled.

"An artist's work has to be looked at over time, because your whole life is about creating art. I don't know if it will be something that people will still want to do in the future. Younger people are interested in movies and getting rich quick or whatever. Of course, every artist wants money. But the idea that `I'm 25 and I'm a master' is pure Hollywood."

Sascha's is at 527 N. Charles St. Hours are Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for lunch. The restaurant reopens at 5:30 p.m. for dinner and continues until 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and until midnight Thursday through Saturday. Sascha's is closed on Sunday. Call 410-539-8880.

Wide-angle exhibit

Neil Meyerhoff's panoramic color photographs of Cuba at the C. Grimaldis Gallery through Feb. 3 are a continuation of the artist's experiments with the extreme wide-angle lens made possible by new developments in camera technology.

Meyerhoff uses the Hasselblad XPAN, a small, handy camera that appeared last year and which combines the extreme wide field of view of the large panoramic camera with the visual agility and nimbleness of a 35-mm miniature camera.

Such cameras are often employed in architectural photography, but Meyerhoff uses it here in the long tradition of "street photography" - the recording of sidewalk scenes pioneered by such masters of the miniature camera as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand and the great Indian color photographer Raghubir Singh.

Meyerhoff's pictures share his predecessors' alert spontaneity and the formal ingenuity that allowed them to capture two or three separate incidents within a single frame, creating a kind of temporal and spatial collage of meanings.

Meyerhoff first went to Cuba last year to participate in a Maine Photographic Workshop program aimed at fostering cultural exchange projects.

"What struck me about this society was that, unlike a country such as China, there doesn't seem to be any history of trouble about talking to foreigners," Meyerhoff said in a recent interview. "There's no xenophobia, and the people there are very open. As much as Castro may rant and rave, everybody in Cuba loves America. So there's quite a disconnect between the government's rhetoric and how the people feel."

Meyerhoff's photographs capture the atmospheric color and tropical patina of life in the old city of Havana with affection, wit and a formal elegance that attest to the survival of an irrepressible spirit among the Cuban people today.

C. Grimaldis Gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and by appointment. For information, call 410-539-1080.

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