Chaim Soutine: Luminous Writhing Paint

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David Carbone reviews the exhibition Life in Death: Still Lifes and Select Masterworks of Chaim Soutine at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, on view through June 14, 2014.

Carbone writes: "Soutine remains an outsider to the mainstream narrative of Modernism; he belongs instead to the still largely unwritten alternative history of modernist figurative painting. Well aware of all the developments from Post-Impressionism through Cubism, Soutine absorbed their lessons but rejected the language of abstract signs, and chose to develop his art out of the sensually rich tradition of nineteenth century naturalism: Corot, Courbet and their forerunners Rembrandt, Chardin and Goya. Foremost in this was his commitment to painting from life, which allowed him to connect emotionally to what he saw, to wed his strong temperament to a deep empathy with his subjects. Working directly from life also allowed him to evade academic solutions to depicting the world, instead paying attention to the complex nature of our seeing; how we map the world as we turn our head and our eyes… the kinesthetic rhythms that animate his landscapes and portraits, which also knead the hanging and splayed bodies of dead animals, suggest the bodily experience of dance and song, especially the plaintive cry of the human voice. This is the pictorial equivalent of García Lorca’s idea of Duende, a demonic possession that comes from a trembling in the moment, in being truly present in the work itself."

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