figure 28 Robert Ferrandini, photographed for Art New England cover, March 1988. Courtesy Art New England

figure 28
Robert Ferrandini, photographed for Art New England cover,
March 1988.
Courtesy Art New England

As Ferrandini’s work progressed through the eighties and nineties, it became more romantic and less surreal, more painterly and less cartoony, more contemplative and less humorous. Scenes of nutty devastation gave way to an increasing focus on the landscape as an expressive vehicle, but this remained a landscape of imagination rather than observation, a landscape mediated by art history and literature. Melancholy set in, in various guises (lyrical, bucolic, sublime, haunted), and his work opened to the influence of great masters of atmospheric landscape painting like Claude Lorraine, Camille Corot, J. M. W. Turner, George Inness, and Albert Pinkham Ryder.   stands at the cusp of Ferrandini’s early and later work. In this imagined Boston cityscape, two expressively rendered landmarks—the Suffolk County Superior Courthouse and Holy Redeemer Cathedral—flank and dwarf a smaller building, a symbol of the East Boston housing projects where the artist grew up.1″1 These ominous architectural protagonists are engulfed by the smoke and haze of some unknown disaster and establish a scene that is as much a narrative as a landscape. The painting’s title (always an important element in Ferrandini’s work) provides a key to its personal and universal content: a life made anxious by corruptions of church and state.

Todd McKie was also born in Boston but studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before returning to the Hub, where he began showing work in the late seventies. His early paintings were watercolors on paper, but over the course of his career he took up other paint media, printmaking, hand-made paper, and ceramics. Like many of his expressionist contemporaries in Boston, he embraced the figure, Surrealism, cartoons, and humor, and he is an excellent draughtsman and colorist. He especially cherishes ancient forms of visual expression, like petroglyphs and pictograms. According to the artist, “The art that I like best has been made by ‘primitive’—that’s such an awful word—artists. What we refer to as primitive is as sophisticated as you can get. It attracts me because it’s so funny, but it’s also monumental, no matter what size it is.”91   The same could be said about McKie’s work in general. His paintings are powerful in their formal simplicity and directness, yet wry and ironic due to his use of crisp lines, flat shapes, and broad unmodulated fields of color that tease existential narratives out of formal non-objectivity. In Lost at Sea (1990, plate 35), the barest linear indications of facial features transform a hard-edged geometric abstraction into a one-man ship of fools. And, like Ferrandini, McKie carefully chooses titles to suggest avenues of interpretation for his images.

Aaron Fink is another native Bostonian who studied elsewhere (he received an M.F.A. from Yale in 1979) yet returned home to paint. He quickly achieved an international reputation as a painter and printmaker, and for over twenty years he has single-mindedly pursued a particular aesthetic approach. For his paintings, like , Fink chooses to depict monumental, densely colored, and thickly painted iconic objects against a nonspecific ground. His work relates to that of his regional contemporary expressionist peers in its technical mastery and reliance on color as a vehicle for emotion, but it departs from this context in several important ways. He operates in the art historical tradition of still life rather than figure or landscape painting, and, more importantly, his work is informed far more by the Process Art of the seventies than by the Surrealism and various twentieth-century expressionisms held dear by Bergstein, Anderson, Ferrandini, et al. Artists who practiced Process Art, a movement that grew out of sixties Minimalism and formalism, sought to intuitively manipulate materials and engage in a physical dialogue with their chosen media to yield emotional as well as perceptual content while intentionally revealing the particular process employed. As Fink explained about his own work, “The idea is to depict what is the image, while exploring the possibilities of the material manipulated. The image is generally pre-determined, although open to chance. The content is determined in the making of the painting. It is a process of visualizing, acting, and then reacting. The canvas is the stage upon which the paint performs.”92   In Raspberry, one can easily perceive how Fink applies, layers, and streaks paint. He also characteristically lifts material away from the surface by pulling away paper rubbed on to the wet paint, a technique akin to counter-proofing in printmaking. Meaning is generated by emotional resonances generated by a confluence of the traces of the act of making, the symbolic and associational qualities of the image, and color. About the color red in Fink’s work, Gloria Kury wrote, “it takes on tremendous connotative powers. Red signals danger, commanding a stop; it seems to advance forward even when held by strong shadows; and it possesses the compelling radiant attraction of fire.”93

Timothy Harney arrived a bit later on the scene. He received his M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst one year after his first museum exhibition, the 1984 Emerging Massachusetts Painters show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which launched his career. Like so many of his immediate predecessors, Harney is an immensely skilled painter, with a particular mastery of drawing and the evocative potential of hot, saturated color. His work is primarily devoted to the human figure and deeply engaged with the history of art, especially Surrealism, Post-Impressionism, and early figurative modernism. And, like Guston and his many students and followers, Harney believes in an art drawn from personal experience and the imagination that can speak to larger humanistic themes.

Harney’s , is in part a tribute to one of his art historical heroes, the early-twentieth-century painter and sculptor Amadeo Modigliani. The image is based on the juxtaposition of two appropriated sources: the last known photograph of Modigliani, and that artist’s 1917 painting Reclining Nude. Harney’s remarks on the painting reveal a complex imaginative process grounded in memory and emotion:

I have always been struck by the gravity in the Modigliani photograph. The feeling in his posture. The feeling of resignation. As though almost at rest. This feeling was something I connected to. Only as I got further into the painting did I realize the connection I felt was familiar. I recognized in the Modigliani image, the way my father and my older brother sat. Actually, all the Harney brothers sit in a similar manner, a feeling of collapse. Modigliani,, exhausted and waiting, after years of abuse and then T.B. My father and brother with heart trouble. Modigliani with heart trouble . . . .

Like much of Harney’s work, After the Last Photograph is crowded and spatially ambiguous, with monumental blocky masses and intense contrasts of hue and tone. These formal qualities, brought to bear on an imaginative conflation of biography and autobiography, express a wide range of emotions that characteristically include desire, loss, melancholy, and reverie.

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