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By Ronny H. Cohen - 1986 Fortune Teller

The grand traditions of Painting and Drawing unabashedly live on, set free in the work of Anthony Christian, a London born artist who resides now in New York. Art for him is nothing less than timeless expression, and nothing more than peerless adventure in seeing without bounds. What art is definitely not for him is any narrow or self-indulgent game to be played, as it so often is, according to the superimposed rules of over-intellectualized talents whose aim is to gauge the trends and, if successful, assuage the latest shifts in public taste. Anthony Christian will have none of that. While his approach is one that sets him uncommonly apart from the faddish tendencies of the moment, it also lands him squarely in the vanguard of a major esthetic revolution taking place. This is a revolution being waged by a most daring and visionary force. It consists of artists who are seeking to bring forth a new humanistic art advancing the creative values inculcated by the more than 600 year old Western allegorical legacy. That this revolution has already begun is evident in the historical impulse that runs through much contemporary art in the so-called appropriation or quotation of earlier art. Related to this is the reappearance of the figure in the center of artistic concerns in the 1980's and the no less unheralded return of symbolic content. Couple these developments with the rising interest in the 'Academy', in the standards and techniques that this venerable institution stands for and we have a situation in which many artists are striving to get back on track, to rediscover the basics of art left out in the name of modernism. Though many artists want to do this, few of them actually can. The best of intentions are not, and for that matter have never been enough, to make the kind of art which is marvelous in the old-fashioned sense of breathtaking. It takes instead a strong dose of that most precious of gifts to accomplish this. It takes inspiration, as the career of Anthony Christian so superbly demonstrates.

Near The Village 2

As soon as he was able to hold a brush and a pencil in his hand, Christian found himself infused with an almost divine power. At the age of ten when other boys can think of nothing else but sports he became the youngest person ever given permission to copy the paintings on display at the National Gallery of Art in London. The skill of his copies brought him a lot of attention. But aside from the publicity this generated for him, it showed that the young self-taught artist innately knew that the secret of great art lies with the Old Masters. The National Gallery served as his 'Academy', and with the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velasquez and Goya as his guide, Christian set about finding himself as an artist before he was out of his teens. The path he has taken beginning in the late 1960s has led him to numerous spots including Rome, Morocco and India. Along the way he has continued to study - Degas and Lautrec are other Masters he admires - and perfect his technical skills as both colorist and draughtsman. Of the subjects of his art, one can only say that they seem to come naturally to him from his own obvious enthusiasms for life. Not one to limit the scope of his interests, Christian paints and draws, and his paintings and drawings cover a wide range of categories from figurative scenes and portraits to still lifes, landscapes and interiors. What unifies the work is the integrity of his vision - the artist's total commitment to his own distinctive way of seeing. Whether paintings or drawings, the examples by him impel us to believe in their reality as an enchanted reflection of the world that we know. In paintings like 'The Comforting Hand', 'The Accusation', 'The Fortune Teller' and others that feature the exotic costumes and accoutrements that Christian observed during the time he spent in Morocco, he is continuing on one level the romantic treatments of Arabian themes, a 19th century tradition made famous by Delacroix, Chasseriau and Gerome. But Christian does more than look back at art history. In these paintings he is casting an insightful eye at the awesome complexity of human relationships, and uses the exotic trappings as a means, if you will, of captivating the audience.

African Daisy 1

Immediately, we find ourselve growing increasingly involved, first with the details and then with the larger issues at hand in his compositions. In 'Comforting Hand', for example, we are shown a seated man dressed in a robe and turban hunched over a table with arms and head flung down deep in the throes of mourning being comforted by the compassionate touch on his wrist of his female companion. Attracted to Christian's flawless handling of form so evident in the sensual treatment of textures and drapery folds, we are scrutinizing every aspect of the composition. Suddenly the figures come to life. As if by magic they start to matter to us. And we wonder who they are and what their intimate relationship is all about. The emphatic responses begin to flow as we identify with them. Here and in the other paintings of this type too, the figures can be seen as personifications of feelings. And as a group these scenes, each of which is executed after an elaborate set-up for which Christian uses large wooden mannequins as models for the figures, lend themselves to allegorical interpretations about role-playing - perhaps the most conspicuous condition governing the behaviour between the sexes in every society.

Metaphorical thoughts are evoked by the paintings of musicians as well. In 'The Musicians' the two figures, a man and a woman adorned in splendid Moorish garb, appear to be listening to their instruments as much as playing them. A sweet sound of music seems to burst forth from the luminous colors and rhythmical harmonies of this composition. In the portraits, Christian's ability to suggest the character of his sitters through his exacting likeness of them is indeed mesmerizing. As is the bravura display of painterly control in the still life examples. Of the sophisticated compositions, while it can be said that references to the history of still life painting from the Baroque to the Post-Impressionist periods seem to fairly reverberate through them, these pictures manage to make us forget everything that might have come before them and possibly influenced the artist - so complete and convincing are Chrisian's own interpretations of this traditional vanitas theme. Other paintings that invite us to read them as charged forms and spaces are to be found among the landscapes and interiors. In 'Hut Interior', for example, even more than the random placement of objects it is the tenuous impression made by the light flooding the room that triggers the emotive content regarding the absence and speculative fate of the inhabitants.

Pathway Up To The Moors

A virtuoso command of line and structure dominates the drawings. In 'Pathway Up to Moorish Castle, Sintra', a pencil drawing, Christian allows the audience to see both the forest and the trees in the dynamic composition he has built from networks of interconnected strokes. And by varying the pressure of the individual strokes in this example and others including 'The Great Plane Tree','Outside Capoche Monastery, Sintra', another pencil drawing and 'Chrysanthemum Studies', a mixed media example, he causes the contours of his natural forms to throb and pulsate with a vital energy strongly suggestive of organic growth.With drawings like 'Sevou', 'Dorine', 'Studies of a Girl's Head' and 'Man Meditating', all mixed media examples, the degree of beauty achieved in them is truly transcendant. Working on specially tinted papers, he makes the figures appear to emerge from a glowing spectral space of boundless dimension in such a direct and startling way that these images impress as symbols of the exalted state of being at one with the universe. As both a chronicle of the deepest psychological need and the most precious desire, the artist Anthony Christian has few equals.

Ronny Cohen, New York
Art Critic


Hammer Galleries

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