Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix, Arizona


Heroic Painting



By the 19th century, however, history painting seemed antiquated. Early modernists turned the genre to its own ends. Employing irony and realism, they worked in the style of history painting, but twisted heroic themes into personal ones. As the concept of heroism has become increasingly muddled, artists have digested, conceptualized, and revealed the ambiguities surrounding perceptions of the heroic. The contemporary artists shown in Heroic Painting - Bo Bartlett, Vincent Desiderio, Walton Ford, Lawrence Gipe, Julie Heffernan, Komar and Meiamid, and Mark Tansey - continue the traditions of their early modernist forebears, but tinge their narratives with irony. The legends, wars, cinematic landscapes, and larger-than-life personalities they depict are a means of presenting a discussion on the very concept of heroism at the end of the 20th century.

An example of this examination is Bo Bartlett's Civil War, based on the Battle of Nashville. Civil War was a way for Bartlett, a displaced Southerner facing mid-life, "to find the meaning of home." The Battle of Nashville was the first to be fought in the snow, and Bartlett depicts the bleak desolation of its aftermath. In the distance, a Confederate wife struggles to save her husband, as many women did on the battlefields of the South. The real action, though occurs in the foreground where a woman holds a dying Union soldier who was once a slave. The pose recalls Michelangelo's Pieta (1498-1500). For Bartlett, the true heroes are survivors, rather than victors.

Heroic Painting includes 16 paintings, some as large as 11 feet by 17 feet. A fully-illustrated, 32-page catalog ($15.95) accompanies the exhibition and is available in The Museum Store. David S. Robin, Phoenix Art Museum's curator of 20th century art and organizer of the Arizona showing of Heroic Painting, will present an exhibition overview in the gallery on Thursday, May 21 at 12:00 Noon and again at 7:00 p.m.


Above right: A Faulty Seat, Walton Ford, 1992, oil on wood, collection of Margot Frankel, New York; Above left: Bolsheviks Returning Home after a Demonstration, Komar and Melamid, 1981-82, oil on canvas, colection of Robert and Maryse Boxer, London, courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Art, New York


rev. 11/26/10

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