sorta realism


F. Scott Hess appears in many of his paintings — perhaps most provocatively in The Painter and His Daughter (2003) and Riverbed (2004) — suggesting that they are all self-portraits in principle. In Time, Mind and Fate (all 2005), the mature, hard-eyed Hess appears in softer surrogate form, without his Mephistophelean goatee and moustache, as though he were a callow youth just starting his career as a painter (the clean-shaven painter pictured is, in fact, Hess’ student) and thus innocent as to the ways of the art world rather than a seasoned veteran of its wars, holding his own in it. Hess has described himself as a “reluctant realist,” and realism is not a fashionable position, suggesting that Hess casts himself as an alienated outsider, all the more so because his realism is grounded in Old Master craft and intelligence. And, even more subtly, in an Old Master formalism — more complicated, devious and expressively insinuating than modernist formalism — that informs the narratives which mask it. For Hess is as much a formalist — and a not-so-reluctant one, as I hope to show — as a realist. Like Old Master realism, Hess’ realism speaks in symbolic tongues and formal paradoxes, which is not exactly to speak plainly.

more from Donald Kuspit at artnet magazine here.