Pasatiempo - - Art In Review -

Walt Wooten: D:NA De­mo­graphic: Na­tive Amer­i­can, Wa­dle Gal­leries LTD, 128 W. Palace Ave., 983-9219, through April; Wes Hem­pel: Model Cit­i­zens, LewAllen Gal­leries Down­town, 125 W. Palace Av­enue, 988-8997, through May 1 How do you pre­fer your men — buff and burly or robed and re­gal? Such de­scrip­tions of the male fig­ures in gal­leries across from each other on West Palace Av­enue are apt. LewAllen Gal­leries Down­town of­fers a one-per­son show of paint­ings by Wes Hem­pel, while Wa­dle Gal­leries LTD high­lights the work of Walt Wooten.

The­matic in their sub­ject mat­ter — some might say repet­i­tive or for­mu­laic — Hem­pel and Wooten are very good at what they do. Hem­pel’s style tends to­ward pho­to­re­al­ism, while Wooten’s paint­ing re­calls that of the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists, but with a much warmer pal­ette. In fact, Wooten’s on­go­ing se­ries of In­di­ans — pos­ing in non­de­script stu­dio set­tings or in generic in­door and out­door scenes — makes one imag­ine his sub­jects are nurs­ing ex­treme cases of sun­burn. The term “red man” is an un­der­state­ment when ap­plied to Wooten’s war­riors. But if you can over­look the per­pet­ual heat­stroke, you can be­gin to re­spect his drafts­man­ship, as well his abil­ity to con­vey a quiet dig­nity from his sub­jects.

Blood Brothers — a three-quar­ter-pose dou­ble por­trait by Wooten — de­picts two In­dian men wrapped in solid-color blan­kets with their heads slightly turned look­ing di­rectly at you. De­spite the for­mal­ity of the por­trait, a rich his­tory of shared com­mu­nity be­tween the men is im­plied. Stand­ing erect, but com­fort­ably so, they ap­pear ready to en­gage you in con­ver­sa­tion. Apache Scout I and Apache Scout II |are sim­i­lar in feel­ing, but one be­gins to ob­serve that in the ma­jor­ity of Wooten’s paint­ings, those pos­ing for his can­vases are the same man — or such is the im­pres­sion. For his two Apache por­traits — un­less the mod­els are iden­ti­cal twins — only the beads and mil­i­tary in­signia on the uni­forms have been changed.

The few land­scapes in Wooten’s show por­tray pairs of Na­tive Amer­i­cans on horse­back — see Thun­der­heads Over

Taos and Taos Ride. They are rem­i­nis­cent of works by Taos So­ci­ety artist E. Martin Hen­nings, in which the rid­ers are in­deli­bly part of the land­scape. But the most in­ter­est­ing — and, to a de­gree, the most dis­ap­point­ing — of Wooten’s works are his se­ries of more than 50 paint­ings (a few are fea­tured in the cur­rent show) in which the artist en­vi­sions a group of Ojibwe In­di­ans that ac­com­pa­nied West­ern ex­plorer and pain­ter Ge­orge Catlin to Paris in 1845. They vis­ited the Lou­vre, and Wooten’s idea of de­pict­ing In­di­ans in tra­di­tional garb, stand­ing be­fore paint­ings by the likes of In­gres and Delacroix, is novel. The re­sult is fun, if not sur­real — his im­ages sug­gest snap­shots that doc­u­ment the oc­ca­sion. Un­doubt­edly, the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence of Catlin’s Na­tive guests must have been a hellavuh cul­ture shock. But Wooten’s sub­jects show no signs of be­wil­der­ment; they stand as re­quested, seem­ingly aloof.

What’s dis­sat­is­fy­ing about these pieces is that Wooten’s tech­nique is in­con­sis­tent and doesn’t re­flect a dis­tinct change of style from his own to that of the mas­ter paint­ings cou­pled with his mod­els. In Visit to the Lou­vre XXV — which in­cor­po­rates a ren­di­tion of In­gres’ 1811 paint­ing Jupiter and

Thetis — Wooten’s In­dian is ex­e­cuted well enough, but his rep­re­sen­ta­tion of In­gres’ work is sloppy. Not only is Thetis’ left arm ex­ces­sively elon­gated, the heavy con­tour lines that de­fine it negate any sense of vol­ume. Jupiter’s face is sketchy and looks un­fin­ished. Given the op­por­tu­nity to con­vey his tal­ents in an­other pain­ter’s skin, Wooten fails to wow us. Some work bet­ter than oth­ers, and I love the con­cept and ap­plaud the ef­fort.

Hem­pel in­cor­po­rates a bit of art his­tory into his work, but rather than try­ing to copy known master­works, he paints from a va­ri­ety of sources and makes them his own. In Tri­umph Over Em­pire, we see part of a colos­sal Greek statue tow­er­ing above a nude fig­ure gaz­ing out to sea; Farm­boy Idyll places a young man and cow in a lush, Con­sta­ble-like land­scape; Me­mento

Mori (Hour­glass) fea­tures a guy con­tem­plat­ing the sands of time atop an or­nate Corinthian cap­i­tal; and De­ci­sion in­cludes a young man with clenched fists pon­der­ing his next move among a group of dain­tily clad, day­dream­ing women plucked from an Alma-Tadema paint­ing.

Hem­pel’s ex­quis­ite tech­nique and re­al­is­tic style also give nods to Poussin, any num­ber of 17th-cen­tury Dutch painters, Car­avag­gio, and, dare I say,

Walt Wooten: Visit to the Lou­vre LXI, 2011, oil on can­vas, 46 x 40 inches (in the back­ground is Wooten’s ren­di­tion of Wealth by Si­mon Vouet, circa 1635)

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