Miroslav Antic at Kidder Smith Gallery

What the Soul Desires: New Paintings

By: - Nov 04, 2008

Antic Antic Antic Antic Antic Antic Antic Antic Antic Antic

Miroslav Antic
Kidder Smith Gallery
What the Soul Desires: New Paintings
November 5 through 29
131 Newbury Street
Boston, Mass. 02116
617 424 6900

          Over decades of following the work of  Miroslav Antic he has consistently been one of the most skilled and inventive painters on the Boston scene. Several years ago, at about the time he joined Kidder Smith Gallery, which is currently showing him for the fourth time, Miroslav relocated to South Florida.

            Having struggled in Boston there were better prospects in Florida where the work was selling. None of the Boston dealers seemed to know quite what to make of the often dazzling and eclectic work. Until Tom Smith who brought a very different, high profile, Pop sensibility to often staid and conservative Newbury Street. For the most part, Smith has a national and international outreach and initially had little interest in "local" artists. Over time that has changed as the gallery was ultra selective in taking on regional artists who fit their mandate; most notably Antic, the late Ralph Hamilton, and the abstract painters, David Moore and David Palmer.

            Kidder Smith is different from many Boston dealers through aggressive marketing. This entails regular full page ads in Art in America. So the painting "Road King" from the exhibition which opens this week "Miroslav Antic: What the Soul Desires; New Paintings" has been exposed to readers of the November issue of one of the most widely circulated and respected art magazines.

                For those who have followed Antic's development the new work will be quite a  surprise. During a visit last week, when the work was in the back room waiting for installation, I had to look twice and ask "Is this Miroslav?"  It remains to be seen whether his collectors will respond to the new work. This is a tricky economy to try something new. The conventional wisdom is that if it ain't broke don't fix it. But the best artists often take on new challenges and stay ahead of the curve. They forge ahead and the art world may or may not catch up.

           If you look back on the career of the artist there have been these periodic seismic upheavals. This has been true since the first show that I reviewed at the former Lopoukine Neyduch Gallery (1980) on Congress Street. In 1979 he showed photo realist paintings at the Clark Gallery but I did not see that show. The following year he was showing the Neon paintings. These were large renderings of Old Master images dissected with elements of neon light. They sold well including a New York show. While truly electrifying they were also expensive and technically demanding. There was a next phase when Miroslav explored "bad paintings" which were deliberately awkward and expressionist. He was moving forward going counter to natural instinct and training for fine rendering and representation. 

            He evolved into a new focus on funky, loose paintings. There was a show of Chairs and Pharoahs. Followed by elements of abstracted design and garlands of flowers such as those placed on the graves of his Yugoslavian heritage. I loved that period and had the pleasure of including it in a traveling exhibition "Objective Abstraction."

                But he changed again. There was a critical dialogue among a circle of Boston artists- Miro, Gerry Bergstein, Robert Ferrandini, and Domingo Barreres- to mention just a few. They were looking at and interacting with each other's work and there was a sense of respect and healthy competition. It has often been stated that the dominant style of Boston artists is rooted in the Boston Expressionists- Karl Zerbe, Hyman Bloom, and Jack Levine. That is somewhat true for Bergstein who came to this tradition through his teacher Henry Schwartz. But it is not true for Antic and Barreres who grew up in Europe. Ferrandini evolved through a different ambiance at Mass Art which is disconnected from the expressionist roots of the Museum School where Antic, Bergstein and Barreres were prominent members of the faculty. It was this mix of elements that inspired me to show them several years ago in "Los Cuatro Grandes" at New England School of Art & Design.

               Others in Antic's circle of artist friends were Valta Us and Morgan Bukleley. Last summer Bulkeley included Miroslav in a group show "The Boston Ten"  for Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield. Review of Ferrin Gallery exhibition.

                      It was during this period that Miroslav created the multi layered, nostalgic, 'bubble' paintings. As a relocated European adjusting to American art and culture there has been an ongoing concern for roots, heritage and tradition. He sees the past from a conflated perspective. It is a resource for mystery and insight. This resulted in seemingly benign, generic and kitsch images which he appropriated. These were rendered in an 'antiqued manner' often with a limited palette that implied the sense of old photographs and lithographs whose colors had faded and morphed over time. The paintings were built up in thin layers in which bleach was splashed on the surface to simulate the foxing that occurs in old prints when the acids in the paper create spots and blemishes. Over this came another layer on which he rendered large bubbles which, at times, seemed to be distorted by gravity into odd shapes and configurations.

                 For the last show at Kidder Smith the artist was more specific in the imagery. Instead of found pictures he rendered enlarged photographs from his childhood of family members. They were indeed snap shots of his past and the show was uniquely personal. But it also proved to be a labyrinth.

                   In the current exhibition there are hints and memories of the 'bubbles' and  layering of nostalgia but also evidence of letting go and moving on. As a young artist Miroslav, for a time, was a commercial billboard painter. He is now returning to that experience as a source of inspiration. It is hardly coincidental that the new work evokes the 1960s images of James Rosenquist who was also once employed as a billboard painter. There is a similar, post cubist composition and layering of images and styles of rendering.

                The current exhibition included seven large paintings: "Belair" "Electra Game" "El Dorado" "Hello Goodby" "Off the Trail" "Road King" and "The Trip." Like the popular TV series "Mad Men" or "Life on Mars" there is a fascination with the pop culture and commercial advertising images of the 1960s. During the current hard times of war on two fronts, and a devastated economy, it is not surprising that art and culture are looking back at a time of consumerism and excess. Antic lovingly renders the cars of the period including a front view of a Cadillac El Dorado, with its bright chroma and gaudy chrome. The El Dorado was a status for the mega rich. He has also rendered a side view of a Belair with its class design targeted for the middle class. Augmenting these images, and underscoring the marketing truism that 'sex sells,' Antic includes head shots of glamorous models.

                     The paintings are indeed hot, pop, and super sexy. As Astrid commented "They seem so Florida." Indeed it is unlikely that he would have been so inspired by the winter gloom of the former Boston studio. But he also has a curiously contrarian element. The paintings are not perfect although initially they appear to be pristine. On further examination there are little screw ups. Edges that we expect to be crisp and sharp are not so. The space has surprises. The layering is less than neat and certain areas just don't connect or trail off without pictorial logic. In some of the 'abstract' areas, for example, a black and white 'target,' the paint application is a tad sloppy and awkward with drips and mistakes.

                  But the fudging is what keeps the work honest. It is the artist's rebellion and assertion that he is not just evoking photo realism and generic pop. There is more going on than that. Although there is the compelling aspect of the eye candy, razzle dazzle rendering of a gleaming motorcycle or a lovingly detailed car. It implies that if he evokes the style and mood of another era he has to do so from a fresh and skewed position. He leaves us hints and clues that these new works are more than just retinal. There are even in jokes and puns about his own pictorial history. So there is far more here than the conventional notion of what you see is what you get. This is super realism and pop nostalgia with a cutting edge. Again, Antic proves to be a wizard with a brush. How Oz.