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Painting the Painter

Painting the Painter

Upon first glance, the paintings in Roberta Loach’s Contemporary Reflections: A Survey Exhibition 1998-2007, look like simple, cartoonish designs. But, on second sight, her artwork sheds the childlike stigma associated with this style, and emerges into images that tell a unique and interesting story.

One of her more intriguing pieces comes from an adaptation of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” aptly titled “Revisiting Renoir’s Boating Party.” In Renoir’s painting, the viewer follows a line of desire and longing from a woman propped against a banister to a woman focusing her attention on a dog. In Loach’s revision, characters are depicted in summer clothing, but the feeling of unrequited love remains. The passionate glances begin with a man in a blue shirt who is gazing upon on a woman in red swimwear. That woman is coyly looking at a shirtless man, who in turn, is fixated on a woman in a purple swimsuit. And, the woman in purple? Unlike Renoir’s painting where none of the people return adoring stares, Loach not only has Ms. Purple looking back at Mr. Shirtless, but Ms. Purple is smiling and waving in his direction. It’s a slight departure from Renoir’s famous work, but infuses a sense of both joy and sadness into the mind of the viewer.

Loach pays homage to famous artists throughout history – from her painting of Frida Kahlo painting watermelons (Kahlo’s “Viva la Vida”) to her piece showing Paul Cezanne painting still life (Cezanne famously painted bowls and plates of fruit). While it seems as if a painting of someone painting might strike the viewer as uninspired, Loach puts her own twist on the concept, by inserting the painter into the piece. These artists aren’t painting canvases, they are part of the canvas and it’s almost as if they’ve not only painted fruit, but they’ve painted themselves into the painting.

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The artwork in Loach’s exhibit isn’t to be glanced at and forgotten; it’s to be savored as if it were a fine wine. There’s always something more. The “Ivory Collector #2” stands, hunting equipment in hand, in front of a monstrous elephant with his tusks in tact. She clutches her necklace and looks away from the viewer. Are her “pearls” actually pearls or are they pieces of ivory viciously stolen from the magnificent creature’s relative?

There is no artist statement accompanying this particular exhibit. To learn more about Loach and her style, visit her personal website where she states, “In the early eighties I started to work in gouache, which has remained the medium of choice which gives me the greatest personal pleasure. It was in gouache that I developed my figurative style, drawing mostly from my imagination. The speed with which one must work in order to keep the colors clean and bright is a constant challenge and pleasure when I succeed. It allows for the greatest personal application in terms of facial and bodily expressions, so important to certain content.”

Contemporary Reflections – A Survey Exhibition 1998-2007 is on display at the Triton Museum of Art (1505 Warburton Avenue in Santa Clara) until July 8. For additional information visit http://www.tritonmuseum.org/exhibitions_Loach.php.

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