DAVID LIGARE: TIMELESS OBJECTS
Hirschl & Adler Modern mounts a new still life exhibition for David Ligare.
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.