Steven Gontarski (Philadelphia, 1972) showed new drawings and paintings in the print room of the Groninger Museum.
This collection of drawings and paintings are a slight departure from the sculptures Gontarski has been making in the last few years. The high glossiness of the three dimensional work suggested a fluidity, perhaps a frozen moment within a flow of motion. The seamlessness of the work removed any trace of their fabrication - as though they just ‘appeared’ or were created rather than made. Whether taking form as a portrait bust or slightly larger-than-life statue, the subjects were named after invented Prophets or characters taken from Gontarski’s own invented mythologies. The figures rarely had faces, leaving a blankness on which a viewer could project his/her own ideas, giving further detail to the subjects he introduced.
In 2004 a french public art council asked Gontarski to propose a sculpture to honor two teenagers who died in a road accident. The project initially triggered many questions in his studio practice. How do you memorialise a life? At which stage of someone’s life do we capture them as a memory? Had the two young men not died, how would they have changed as they grew older? Should we not consider the future as well as the past when remembering someone?
Having lost a close family member at the same time as working on the french sculpture commission, Gontarski particularly wanted to confront some of the questions raised when considering memorials and explore them in depth. Alongside the sculptural commision, he began a new body of drawings and oil paintings. His intention was to create images of people he knew, perhaps inventing new mythologies, but all-the-while focusing on details of the actual world rather than the imaginary Gontarski drew inspiration from portraits of young adult subjects by artists of the northern renaissance, admiring the qualities of light and shade and the ability to produce images of permanent, timeless youth which went on to live beyond the physical death of the sitter. He considers the works to be ‘continuations’ rather than ‘memories of’ the sitters, impervious to time frames and physical limitations.
‘The Visitors’ consist of portraits of some friends, some strangers, and some animals - all invited by Gontarski to visit him in the studio.