actual human presence


It will come as little surprise to anyone acquainted with the paintings of Raoul Middleman that earlier in his career he had writing aspirations, too — and not just aspirations, for they were acted upon in raucous short stories that often delved into the steamier side of Baltimore. This is the city where he grew up, taught for many years at the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art, and continues to make his home. But it is also, in his writings and paintings alike, a city of the imagination, transported beyond its present bricks and mortar to the planet of Joyce’s Dublin and Durrell’s Alexandria, Atget’s Paris and Kirchner’s Berlin. These are cities mapped by longings not landmarks. For many years he has kept a studio of mythic magni- tude in the neighborhood of the famed Copycat building, amidst the raw, mean streets that serve as location for The Wire. Middleman is at once a supremely painterly painter and a writerly painter. His illustrious, fecund career provides a service to aesthetics by dispelling the prissy formalist notion that somehow to tell a story in paint, to illustrate a type, to animate a com- position with scenario, is incompatible with whatever it is that provides visual art with its essence. Middleman’s vital, brimful- of-life riposte to such a reductive way of thinking reconnects narrative painting to centuries of endeavor in countless genres, many of which latter he himself has attacked in his greed for imagery. In virtually any Middleman painting, an event has just happened and there is more to come. Subjects are never passive. The universe is in flux.

more from David Cohen at artcritical here.