Hirschl & Adler Mod­ern mounts a new still life ex­hi­bi­tion for David Ligare.

American Art Collector - - Contents - By John O’Hern

In 2014, Re­becca New­berger Gold­stein wrote the book Plato at the Google­plex: Why Phi­los­o­phy Won’t Go Away. She drops the an­cient Greek philoso­pher into 21st-cen­tury Amer­ica for a book tour. His thoughts are peren­ni­ally per­ti­nent. In The Power of Myth, Joseph Camp­bell said, “We need myths that will iden­tify the in­di­vid­ual not with his lo­cal group but with the planet.” Time­less­ness and uni­ver­sal­ity are rarely con­tem­plated to­day. David Ligare be­lieves Plato’s ideas and uni­ver­sal truths “are again wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” He has im­mersed him­self in the study of phi­los­o­phy and the ideal. He finds the an­cient ideas con­tin­u­ally rel­e­vant and says, “Mak­ing paint­ings is a pas­sion for me, but it is a pas­sion of ideas rather than just pig­ment. I be­lieve deeply that art can make a dif­fer­ence in the way we view the world, and in the way we act in it.”

His lat­est work can be seen in the ex­hi­bi­tion Still Life at Hirschl & Adler Mod­ern in New York, through Oc­to­ber 13.

Ligare stud­ied at the Art Cen­ter Col­lege of De­sign in Cal­i­for­nia. “I never had classes in clas­si­cal art and ar­chae­ol­ogy,” he says. “I made a de­ci­sion to take on the idea of the Greco-Ro­man nar­ra­tive. I had no idea what I was do­ing and gave my­self a grad­u­ate course in the sub­ject.”

His stud­ies and his ap­pli­ca­tion of them in his paint­ings have earned him elec­tion to the Ac­cademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence. The acad­emy was founded by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1563. Michelan­gelo was a mem­ber.

Ligare says, “In the process of my clas­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion, I came upon the idea of three el­e­ments that cre­ate a whole.”

He re­calls Plato’s tri­par­tite cri­te­ria for art, that it must pos­sess cor­rect­ness, use­ful­ness and beauty. Plato’s con­cept for the lat­ter was xaris, the root word for charisma, closer to at­trac­tive­ness than beauty.

He also found the idea of “3” in the work of Vitru­vius who wrote that a build­ing must con­tain fir­mi­tas (strength), util­i­tas (func­tion­al­ity) and venus­tas (beauty). Aris­to­tle wrote of a play hav­ing a be­gin­ning, a mid­dle and an end.

In the clas­si­cal world, the con­cept of “2” also oc­curs. Ligare notes, “The essence of clas­si­cism is the bal­ance be­tween op­po­sites.”

For many years, his still lifes il­lus­trated the Greek con­cepts of aparchai and xe­nia. In an­cient Greece the of­fer­ing of the first-fruits to the gods was known as aparchai. Houseguests were in­vited to eat with the fam­ily on their first night and the next night food was left for them to eat in their own quar­ters—xe­nia is the Greek con­cept of hos­pi­tal­ity.

He ex­plains, “The representational artist looks at some­thing and re-cre­ates it in an at­tempt to get to a kind of truth…a kind of whole­ness. He presents the in­tegrity of the thing it­self, seen for its own sake, rather than a ve­hi­cle of the artist’s self-ex­pres­sion…Look­ing care­fully at some­thing, an­a­lyz­ing why it looks the way it does and then recre­at­ing it is an act of rev­er­ence to­ward na­ture and en­cour­ages the prac­tice of an­a­lyt­i­cal thought. This is a metaphor we need.”

His new still lifes are of the ob­jects them­selves—man­made ob­jects of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als such as clay and reeds.

In Still Life with Figs, Pome­gran­ate, and Rose, 2018, the clay ves­sels can sur­vive for mil­len­nia, the fruit

is con­sumed be­fore it rots and the rose’s beauty is ephemeral. All are bathed in the warmth of twi­light, al­ways en­ter­ing his com­po­si­tions from the right or the left, cast­ing shad­ows and cre­at­ing form.

He writes, “For me sun­light rep­re­sents the ul­ti­mate metaphor for knowl­edge. I have of­ten ar­gued that, as a cul­ture, we are in need of a re­newed pas­sion for knowl­edge. To look care­fully at some­thing, an­a­lyze why it looks the way it does and re-cre­ate it is an act of rev­er­ence to­ward na­ture but it is also an ac­tive search for truth. Sun­shine height­ens that ex­pe­ri­ence; it gives us clear dis­tinct shad­ows and an hon­esty of col­ors. Within the nat­u­ral earthly world there is no light that is greater or more il­lu­mi­nat­ing.”

He con­tin­ues, ad­dress­ing twi­light, “And then there is a depth to the light at the end of the day. It has of­ten been called ‘the golden hour’ be­cause of the hue of the light as it passes through the at­mos­phere, but also be­cause of the gen­tle melan­cholic mood it sets up sug­gest­ing a per­fect mo­ment des­tined to dis­ap­pear into dark­ness. It is the pass­ing of day into night, a metaphor for life into death. It was the Ro­man poet Vir­gil who first made these as­so­ci­a­tions and it was said that he in­vented the rich im­pli­ca­tions of evening.”

The Cal­i­for­nia light in which he paints has qual­i­ties sim­i­lar to that of the Mediter­ranean. “The light is par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful here,” he says. “It’s the mois­ture from the prox­im­ity to the sea and the dry at­mos­phere. It’s a bright light even when the sun is about to set.”

The time­less­ness of his paint­ings comes from the his­tor­i­cal ob­jects he chooses for his still lifes and the evoca­tive­ness of the light. “I’ve avoided the con­tem­po­rary,” he says. “Oth­ers do it so well. Us­ing his­tory has been im­por­tant to me. Oth­ers may use it iron­i­cally but I have a rev­er­ence for it. A knowl­edge of his­tory gives us per­spec­tive on con­tem­po­rary life.”


1 Still Life with Figs, Pome­gran­ate, and Rose (de­tail), oil on can­vas, 38 x 48". Cour­tesy the artist and Hirschl & Adler Mod­ern, NY. Pho­to­graph© Richard Forschino.

2Still Life with Figs, Peaches and Rose, oil on can­vas, 42 x 60". Cour­tesy the artist and Hirschl & Adler Mod­ern, NY.Pho­to­graph © Richard Forschino.

4Still Life with Apri­cots, Wheat and Pop­pies (Of­fer­ing), oil on can­vas, 18 x 24". Cour­tesy the artist and Hirschl & AdlerMod­ern, NY. Pho­to­graph © Richard Forschino.

3Still Life with Lemons and Pot, oil on can­vas, 38 x 48". Cour­tesy the artist and Hirschl & Adler Mod­ern, NY.Pho­to­graph © Richard Forschino.

5Still Life with Polyk­leitian Head and Can­dles (Idea), oil on can­vas, 42 x 54". Cour­tesy the artist and Hirschl & Adler Mod­ern, NY. Pho­to­graph © Richard Forschino.

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