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I am sorry it has come to this.  I have to write an article for Star Magazine about Elvis movies—a task which requires me to watch all 31 Elvis movies in a short amount of time.  Naturally I’ll write a post about the, um, insights into celebrity, aesthetics, and the national character which the experience has afforded me.  However, at the moment, I am neck deep in go-go girls, guitars, and musical routines about water skiing.  Today, therefore, I am simply posting a photo of contemporary pop princess Katy Perry wearing a beautiful crown and a Byzantine-themed Dolce & Gabbana gown at the 2013 Met Gala.  I am sorry to do this to you (and I am stunned that Miss Perry has somehow sneaked into my blog by putting on a crown a second time).   I will shamefacedly admit that she looks very beautiful and Byzantine in her jewels and beadwork.  This year’s fashion theme at the Met Gala was “punk” and anyone who regards Byzantine royalty as fitting into that criteria cannot be wholly bad (maugre the gossip evidence).



In order to practice putting together an artist’s statement, I am going to try to write more posts about contemporary art.  Please feel free to chime in with any thoughts or critiques about the style, subject, or conclusions of these little descriptions.

Since I have been writing about the meanings and ramifications of all things gothic, I have decided to start with Steven Assael, a very gifted realist portrait painter working today.  A native New Yorker, Assael studied with the contemporary masters of portrait painting to learn the meticulous craft of the great realist painters of yesteryear.  He employed hi hard-won skills painting outsider “punk” models with the refined & dignified realism one would usually employ for a university president or a bank executive.  The contrast is intriguing and it lends a stolid dignity to the pierced goth figures and faces on the canvas (and a frisson of craziness and excitement to staid academic portrait technique).  

Club Kids (Steven Assael, 2001, oil on canvas)

The otherworldiness of Assael’s portraits is an illusion we are meant to see through: the timelessness of the human emotions under the layers of props is part of his theme.  If we scrubbed off his club kids’ makeup and hair dye and then gave them cravats, lace, and wigs, they would look just like an 18th century group portrait.  Is the difference between a banker and a rebel girl just a bunch of props?  Well, on canvas interpreted through the brush of a talented painter, maybe it is.

Assael is self-conscious about using extremely traditional techniques and poses to contemporary ends.  When asked about his relationship with modern art he answered, “Modernism has taken a direction toward the North Pole—with nowhere to go, frozen.  On the way back we are discovering new territory, using the past as a means of expressing the present.  To go forward we must, at times, take a step back and evaluate our position.  With progression there is always a [positive, studied] regression”

At Mother, detail (Steven Assael, 2001, Oil, wood panel, canvas and steel)

So is the future of art just the past wearing wild clothes? And is Assael’s underlying classicism at odds with the gothic/emo/punk rebelliousness of the personalities portrayed?  There is a melancholic loneliness to Assael’s figures which suggests he understands the paradoxical desire to be outside of popular convention while at the same time being part of a group.  His paintings almost seem to have the same paradox.  He wishes to be outside of traditional painting while firmly a part of it.


Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

June 2023