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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Beckett's "Endgame", Robert Storr's and Addison Parks's recollections of Deyab's unique character and achievements

Addison Parks wrote an exquisite remembrance of Larry Deyab.

The essence of the painting by Larry Deyab is captured in this excerpt from Beckett’s “Endgame”.  Few artists can express the grimness of human existence. Goya is alone except for Deyab.

I once knew a madman who thought the end of the world had come. He was a painter—and engraver. I had a great fondness for him. I used to go and see him, in the asylum. I'd take him by the hand and drag him to the window. Look! There! All that rising corn! And there! Look! The sails of the herring fleet! All that loveliness!
He'd snatch away his hand and go back into his corner. Appalled. All he had seen was ashes.
He alone had been spared.
It appears the case is... was not so... so unusual.

Or Robert Storr's essay on his work is eloquent:
Larry Deyab’s paintings come from a dark place. If you have not already seen it for yourself they will take you there. If you have you’ll immediately recognize where you are but see it as if for the first time through new eyes. That place has many names and its primary characteristics are also many as are the reasons for the differences among them. Those differences matter and we look to painting to help to distinguish them. For lack of a better word, though, and out of respect for tradition, let’s call this continent of disquiet Melancholia, though Baudelaire its greatest poet, preferred a term referring to the source of the humor – black bile – classically understood to be its cause; Spleen. As in the late works of Francisco Goya y Lucientes – “luciente” means bright, shining but the light in Goya is defined by contrast with its absence - blackness suffuses the atmosphere of Deyab’s imagery like toxic squid ink sprayed or spit out on the canvas. Frequently, though, that blackness fades to a heavy metallic grisaille that appears suffused with unspecified toxicities like the atmosphere of an all but barren planet, a planet that might well be our own a hundred years hence – or as things are now tending, much sooner. Deyab’s landscapes – virtually empty horizons, carbon trees against asphyxiating skies – reimagine the conventions of the Romantic sublime for use at the end of the world, recast the pathetic fallacy that nature bespeaks human emotions for that moment when humans have vanished from the face of the earth.
That noted History has already met Larry Deyab half way. More than half way! It is crowding him at very turn. And he is pushing back. Because he has a stake in how history turns out and how its tragedies are misunderstood in their unfolding. Of course we all do, but Deyab, who is of Syrian extraction, reads the daily headlines from the Middle East from a different perspective than the majority of native-born Americans. When we talk about “difference and diversity” in this country the dialogue tends to channel into well worn grooves cut by the ongoing catastrophe bequeathed to us all by slavery. But many waves of immigration followed that of the “founding fathers” who landed at Plymouth Rock, just as they followed those of slave ships docking in Atlantic and Pacific ports of call to supply labor to the Southern colonies and later the Southern states. Deyab’s family of these later transplantations, and it is with more recent and correspondingly vivid collective memory that he watches in horror at his adopted country blunders through the fog of war in Syria, Iraq, and beyond even as new refugees who might be part of his extended clan – the Family of Man – flee or attempt to flee from wars they did not want and from which they suffer more grievously than those who started them. Place names from that part of the world – Fallujah, for example, where mercenaries from the aptly branded Dark Ops squads of Blackwater were burned and then lynched on a bridge for crimes they did commit – is one of those places. Other pictures commemorate monsters from the region – for instance Sadam Hussein’s sadistic sons Uday and Qusay – or thugs from various other post-colonial zones of armed conflict in Asia (specifically Cambodia) and Africa (specifically Liberia), and spill over terrorism in Europe (in particular Munich and the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.) Thus Deyab enters the ranks of contemporary history painters like Gerhard Richter, Leon Golub, Luc Tuymans who have updated Goya’s Disasters of War by showing the Disasters of Peace - or what goes by that designation in an era when “lesser” blood-letting is trumped by the prospect of nuclear annihilation – while eschewing all the tropes of valiant heroism and idealistic common cause characteristic of history painting prior to Goya.
Meanwhile some of Deyab’s emblems of horror are purely mythical – the vampire Nosferatu being one – or archetypal – demonic clowns, side show freaks fleshing out the roster. And some are Biblical, notably from the stations of the Cross a subject rare in contemporary art but a staple of painting in the pre-modern period and to that extent a symbol of Deyab’s challenge to the conventional post-modernist wisdom about what can and should be painted. It would seem that that in a world of daily martyrdoms on the evening news the flagellation of Christ, his crown of thorns, his struggle to carry his own Cross to Calvary are again relevant to some artists who are wholly of their time in every other respect, arguing that as metaphor these stories have yet to be exhausted. In Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood her central character Hazel Motes is caught by his landlady mortifying his flesh with barbed wire around his ribs and pebbles in his shoes. When she admonishes him to stop stating that “People don’t do things like that anymore” he calmly answers her saying words to the effect “So long as I do, they do.” Deyab is such a painter.
It is ironic that many of these dark images are realized “en pleine aire,” specifically on the back porch of a triple decker house in Cambridge Massachusetts where Deyab grew up and to which he has returned to make his own after a long period in the rough and tumble of the New York art world where his circle mixed contemporaries and near contemporaries and cherished elders. In the latter category Milton Resnick, Pat Pasloff, and Ronald Bladen; in the former rising talents of his own generations or of those just slightly older than his, Julian Schnabel for one. Accordingly Deyab’s sense of artistic tradition is first rather than second hand or academic, and never a matter of nostalgia for a Golden Era he missed, but of a living connection to artists he admires.
Yet like any “son” of imposing fathers and mothers Deyab learned early that he did them no honor by trying to mimic the look of their work, which inevitably means doing the heroes work over again but less well and for the wrong reasons - or for no reason at all other that excessively deferential admiration and want of an independent identity and raison d’etre. Making one’s own way as an artist necessarily requires making it – the thing, the work - one’s own way. The first step in that direction is choosing one’s own tools and formats. This Deyab did by setting aside the tools of the past - tools he had mastered and effects he loved and thoroughly understood - and picking up others in tune with his times albeit visually dissonant in the context of the full-bodied painterly painting to which he was initially drawn and at which he excelled early in his career. Chief among them are commercial enamels and spray paint, which account for the unwelcoming, unyielding surfaces of his panels. Speaking of Van Eyck Willem de Kooning famously said “ flesh was the reason oil paint was invented.” Foreswearing the hedonistic pleasures of that medium Deyab has opted for a raw, deliberately limited but for all that no less expressive choice of tools and materials, essentially those of taggers who inscribe their names and thoughts and fantasies on unprotected walls in public situations. Addressing the private anguish that public events inspire and showing viewers those things in a state of nakedness from which they would prefer to turn away, Deyab has chosen to be a painter entirely in and of the world – while it lasts. His pictures are hard to look at and harder still to ‘like” in a period when “liking” has become a finger tip reflex response to canned and spoon-fed feel good imagery of every description. I don’t like Deyab’s pictures but I take them seriously as they insist that I do and once seen I can’t forget them.
Robert Storr – 2015

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