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Gerald Samuels at the Coffey Gallery

"Sun Bird for Terry or Icarus Bound" (32" x 32")
Acrylic on Board

December, 2002

THE WORK OF Gerald Samuels presents the critic with somewhat of a conundrum: whereas, taken singly, each of the approximately 60 paintings in this exhibit* conveys relatively little information upon which to base a judgement, in the aggregate they tend to exert a powerful impression on the viewer. In fact, to describe one painting is to effectively describe them all – most containing a bird-like figure (sometimes two such figures) aloft in a sea of color (with marked variations from painting to painting), most having similar titles within which the word "hybird" [sic] predominantly figures. Nor is there much upon one might hazard an assessment as to technique – the brushwork is fairly nondescript, neither highly textured nor distinctive enough to invite tactile sensation, each painting seemingly treated in a similar pointillist, matte-finished mode. Again, taken individually, there is not much visual information for the viewer to go on. One might wonder what this "hybird" is and in what manner of colored matrix it is seemingly engaged. That all – or most all, since one such "hybird" is perched upon a branch – are caught in flight, is suggestive of movement but one wonders from where and to where? The "hybirds" are eyeless, nondescript, rather stylized, not easily identifiable as specific types of "real" birds. Yet, they obviously fly, alone or in pairs, free from any ground (other than that one perched "hybird"). And, again taken individually, one might simply pass these paintings off as simple abstractions of form and color, signifying nothing more (or less) than the painter’s desire to suggest winged creatures against a backdrop of color(s). On my second circuit around the gallery, however, I found that their very similarity allowed for a more introspective viewing, a

"Hybirds" (33" x 33") Acrylic on Board

viewing that freed me from visually studying each of the paintings to one of viscerally experiencing their combined impact on my sensibilities. I found it difficult not to let my mind "work out" the message here – for I felt that there was indeed a meaning and a powerful one at that – and, if the viewing of art implies an interaction between artist and viewer, then Samuels had me deep in inner dialogue with what I was seeing – or, rather, not seeing. Through the repetition of visual stimuli, the artist seems to encourage the physical eye to "slumber" while, at the same time, awakening the inner eye to take note. He was, in brief, urging the viewer to look beyond the imagery, to see through the painting to arrive at a deeper vision. Was "hybird" to suggest only a bird? Giving my imagination free rein, I could easily have interpreted these winged beings as something less tangible than mere members of some ornithic species – might they represent souls? A closer look at individual paintings surely indicated that these bird/souls were light-seeking beings – words such as "light,’ "star," "sun" and "moon" prominent in many of the titles. Still, if they had no eyes, how might they discern the light? The human condition? The artist’s search? Mankind’s quest? I cannot venture any definitive statement as to what his work might ultimately "mean," but I can vouch for the fact that Gerald Samuels has created here a uniquely compelling body of work. What more might an artist ask for? Surely, he – and The Coffey Gallery – deserve kudos for mounting such a thought-provoking exhibition. I look forward to seeing where this artist will take us on his next aesthetic journey.

*"Gerald Samuels: Recent Work" (Nov 2 thru Nov 30): The Coffey Gallery, 330 Wall St., Kingston, NY (845) 339-6105.

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