Douglas Florian at BravinLee Programs

Written by Melissa Stern on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


What
goes on in the mind of a children’s book illustrator. Rainbows and ponies and
the sweetness of childhood? The exhibition of drawings by Douglas Florian (at
BravinLee Programs through June 5) begs to differ. The exhibition peers into
the far more complicated mental musings of an artist best known for his
whimsical and gentle children’s book illustrations. The intriguing question is,
are the inner workings of the artist’s psyche different from his commercial
work?

These
relatively small gauche and collage paintings are on one level an exploration
of the raw, natural world, in all its messy beauty. Working on thickly gessoed
brown paper bags, Florian paints in what feels like a stream of conscious.
Shape and color flow and morph into vaguely recognizable objects from botany,
anatomy and geology.

There is
also a palpable eroticism to many of the pieces. In “QQ,” a hot pink sinewy
line winds itself around and around the paper, curling into a final embryonic
shape in the center of the paper. Punctuated by hits of brilliant turquoise
paper, collaged onto the surface, the entire painting vibrates with the
possibility of new beginnings.

Three
related paintings entitled “My Mither’s Womb,” “And Eek Behind” and “Of Fumes
and Fragrances” also address the intrigue of an interior private space. Bulbous
turquoise forms tightly engulf smaller gray and orange shapes. There is a
benign sense to these three—something (or things) is being held tightly, ready
to burst, but not in a violent way. In fact, this sense of gentleness is the
unifying theme of the entire body of work. Florian may be playing with ideas of
nature, the psyche and a somewhat childlike vision of sex, but nothing jars the
eye or mind. This is both a strength and weakness of the work.

Though
everything is lovely, there is sameness in tone to this exhibition. It makes
one yearn for an inelegant and impolite outburst of color of emotion. It is
this very same sense of calm that inhabits the universe of drawings that
Florian makes for children’s books. Maybe, in the end, the two bodies of work
are not so different. Douglas Florian may actually see the world as a kind and
gentle place as well as a visually rich and compelling one. And that’s not a
bad thing.

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