By Hayley Ferber
September 1 – October 15, 2023
Maxwell Stevens solo exhibition, Last Days of Summer, on display at Gallery Onetwentyeight through October 15th is aptly titled as we transition from hot, humid summer days into the coolness of fall. The larger than life oil paintings invite viewers into scenes of happy beachgoers sunning themselves on the sand, laughing with friends and gazing out into the ocean. Stevens’ masterly painted images use a combination of realism and abstraction to create voyeuristic vistas of public yet private displays broken up by expressive sweeping gestures. His portrayal of blue skies and crowds of people are rendered so that one can almost hear the waves crashing on the shore, the birds flying overhead and feel the warmth of the sun bouncing off the sand. The audience can’t help but be transported through these idyllic seaside renderings.
Stevens’ use of abstract, gestural marks break the 4th wall between the painting and the viewer, adding a fantastical and dream-like quality that forces the viewer to recognize the artificiality of the environment. As you make your way through the exhibition these expressive markings follow you from painting to painting as if a spectral guide is leading you along. This untethered essence changes shape and meaning within the works, acting as a playful reminder of the elements hovering above or around the beachgoers in some works and used as a means to reveal and conceal in others.
The moments where these strokes and drips of paint directly interact with the figures, as seen in Beach Girls, are what really separates the viewer from the environs Stevens has created, reminding them of their place in the gallery. In Wading Nude a figure emerges from the sea surrounded by splashes of oil paint obscuring them, just missing the areas one would expect to be covered up. Soft Focus Beach Scene (4th of July) simulates that hazy waking up from a nap feeling where the warmth envelopes you as you come back to consciousness.
Stevens embraces art historical references in his works, adding to the familiarity of the scenes before you. Bikini Girl, a larger than life idol, mimics classical poses recalling both Donotello and Michaelangelo’s David. Beach Scene, In Repose references elements of leisurely compositions of groups of friends and family, their fashions reflecting the times, such as in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party andSeurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Rendering a modern lens to these long-established tropes, this series evokes the universal connection to timeless portrayals of human relationships in public spaces.
Through his use of vibrant colors, Stevens creates jubilant scenes with an emphasis on light and shadows to evoke mood. As you make your way to the back of the space Stevens’ works shift to a sense of reflection and contemplation. In Last Days of Summer 1, 2 and 3, Stevens’ palette is muted leaving his figures in shadow, alluding to the setting sun and shortening of days. His scattered brushstrokes begin to elicit a retreat as one would see a “V” of birds flying south for the winter. The cloudy skies and few remaining beach dwellers leave the viewer feeling cooled off after the previous influx of sun and crowds.
The exhibition closes out with Emerald Waters, somewhat of a standalone piece, a portrait where the chaotic energy captured in the above-mentioned works slips into more of a sense of serenity. The blurred ocean background blends in with the gestural marks framing the figure’s pensive gaze. She seems to be alone, there is no one else in sight, as the atmosphere swarms around her solitary thoughts.
In “Last Days of Summer”, Maxwell Stevenstakes the viewer on a perceptual journey presenting moments that are not exactly one’s own but feel familiar. With some figures crisp and clear in the foreground and others disappearing in the distance, Stevens generates a simulated focus. It’s as if the images are actually a mirage or a memory- a recognizable sensation not exactly real but leaving behind a lasting impression of summer.
MAXWELL STEVENS “LAST DAYS OF SUMMER” NEW PAINTINGS
September 1 – October 15, 2023
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 am – 6 pm, Sunday 1 – 5 pm, and by appointment
128 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002
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