At the Fraser Gallery Bethesda to November 12, 2003
By John A. Haslem, Jr. Ph.D. ArtlinePlus Critic
Aerial Troupe, 2001
oil on canvas, 60 x 60"
by JOHN WINSLOW
FRASER GALLERY (Bethesda)
October 10 - November 12 2003
Something like twenty years ago, I was talking to John Winslow. We were on the road from West Lafayette, IN, where I was a student at Purdue University, to Chicago, IL, where my mom, Washington art dealer Jane Haslem, was going to show some of John's work at the Chicago Art Fair. We were talking about art. John was already a fine, established artist, and I was the interested undergraduate. "So," I remember John asking me at one point, "does art imitate life or is it the other way around?" Luckily, I had a ready answer; I had studied enough of logic to know that John was presenting me with what is called a faulty dilemma, an either-or proposition like, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I grinned. "Both," I said.
Back in those days John was producing gorgeous still lifes of subjects he was finding both in and around his studio. One of my favorite paintings was of a young woman positioned on a chair so that you could see her profile, but not her face, which was turned away from the viewer in the direction of a window. Then, I understood the woman to be merely a woman; she was seated indoors and looking out through a window at something outside. I found the painting compelling because it was well painted and because I could try to imagine what was outside the window. It didn't occur to me that still lifes could transcend the literal or that objects might act as metaphors. After all, I was an undergraduate.
Today, though, I understand the painting as an extended metaphor. John wasn't painting just a woman, but rather a representation of his artistic desire in search of thematic vocabulary. The studio provided John a context, and the window established a point of view, or, more accurately, a point of departure. John was not so much studying his relationship with the woman as he was exploring his relationship with the world outside his studio. The word "relationship" is intended to imply a kind of communication model that is useful to keep in mind when looking at John's work. It involves John, his medium, and his public, which also includes John. The relationship is fluid and dynamic, and through it John can explore himself, his artistry, and the world in which he lives and produces his art.
It was this relationship which John explored in his earlier work and which he continues to explore in his most recent works. Take, for example, John's "Aerial Troupe." In this erudite composition, we see John poised between two planes. At his back is John's context: his urbane past or perhaps the artistic tradition out of which he is working. Before him, all on the same plane, are an aerial troupe and an audience. The troupe performs above a canvas which is being painted while the audience looks on. The troupe is John's thematic vocabulary: art as performance. It is bright, interactive, acrobatic, thrilling, and sometimes even a bit clownish. The audience is variously interested in John, in his work, or even only in themselves. Thus, what John has created in the troupe is a transactive medium through which he can simultaneously explore his past, himself , his painting, and the world in which he lives. It is a very complicated world, full of discrete and integral relationships.
In the past John was never so bold as to render in specific terms what makes being a human being so complicated. In his mature work, he is much more comfortable doing exactly that. What I find especially interesting about John's new work is that despite its specificity, the painting succeeds precisely because it manages to defy easy interpretation. Is John seeing himself from one painting to the next, between one artistic movement and the next? Is he interrogating the artist's relationship with his public, or is he examining the myriad conscious and unconscious elements which prefigure and figure ourselves, our work, our world? Does art imitate life, or is it the other way around? View John's work and decide for yourself.
John A. Haslem, Jr. Ph.D.
John A. Haslem, Jr. Ph.D.
© Copyright 2003 ArtlinePlus