Since the early 2000s, Mathew Cerletty has been earnestly stretching the possibilities of figurative painting while cleverly subverting much of what we have come to expect from both Realism and Hyperrealism. Transitioning from his early psychologically compelling portraits to more abstracted takes on household products and text-based images, Cerletty has been probing some amazingly banal subject matter as a heroic challenge to his skills as draughtsman and the transcendent promise of traditional painting. The seven exquisite works (all oil on linen) that comprise his most recent show Susan relish in the commonplace minutia of comfortable living. The furniture, bric-a-brac and architectural particulars that comprise these works are treated with a reverence customarily reserved for saints and heroes.
Quiet Grace (2011, 70 x 62 ¾ inches) almost dares us to question Cerletty’s sanity. What artist in his right mind would endeavor to painstakingly reproduce such a seemingly trite picture of a corner of room in the process of being painted in muted earth tones? Yet we are quickly seduced by the painting’s inner glow and dazzling visual effects. The domestic panorama is rendered with such skill and subtlety that one could easily feel the emotional approximation of seeing a sunset for the first time. Gradual shifts in paint application, from lushness to flatness, animate the overall tableau. Additionally, the ordinary becomes extraordinary with a little help from clever art historical signifiers. Light that pours in from a window evokes the warmth of a Vermeer; a drop cloth is treated like some Baroque tunic. Even the simple wooden wardrobe has the presence of a Minimalist sculpture, while the tiny palette strip resting on a chair is like a knowing wink to Color Field works.
Toying with the corny compositions that inhabit the neutered world of megastore catalogs, Ikea (2009-2010, 74 x 37 inches) is simultaneously sublime and comical. Once again, the artist varies his styles, rendering a simple cabinet with crystalline sharpness while reserving his most textured chiaroscurism for a simple envelop. The whiff of a certain domestic bliss is suggested by the balanced co-habitation of a sloppy husband’s haphazard golf clubs juxtaposed with a wife’s neatly placed handbag. On further inspection, this apparently benign still-life becomes psychologically perplexing, as the familiar quickly becomes peculiar. Shadows appear a bit too grandiose; surfaces seem too shiny.
The most remarkable bit of alchemy Cerletty pulls off with his pigments and brushes occurs in Wall (2011, 68 ¾ x 52 ½ inches), in which the masterly reproduction of a pedestrian cinderblock wall elicits an amazingly profound confrontation with one’s own mind. The painting functions as a sort of meditation on seeing. By presenting us with an image so humdrum it is practically invisible to us in our everyday life, and elevating it to the status of art with such deftness, Cerletty imbues his wall with a strange sense of humanity. He wears this painterly devotion like a badge of courage—and seems to not only want to provoke in us various emotional responses, but also compel us to notice the overlooked in our world with a fresh set of eyes.
Wall Painterly depth perception playfully evoking the most challenging Minimalist