Alastair Dacey, “Le Masque & Kuhn’s Metaphors 2”

Artist Alastair Dacey explores Walt Kuhn’s painted metaphors, the mask, and undertones of European Modernism. From the organizers:

The French Cultural Center / Alliance Française of Boston and Cambridge is pleased to present an exhibition inspired by Walt Kuhn from local artist Alastair Dacey. “Le Masque and Kuhn’s Metaphors” explores European Modernism and reinvention.

Acclaimed artist Walt Kuhn played a significant role in organizing the Armory Show in 1913, the first modern art exhibit in the United States, and was known for his bold, simplifying, and emotionally intense style. His best-known works depict elaborately clad showgirls, clowns, and acrobats backstage with staid formality and solidity.

Inspired by this response to European Modernism, local artist Alastair Dacey spent two years exploring Kuhn’s unique vision and style, seeking to interpret select portraits from Kuhn’s later period. Recreating the look and feel of each piece posed questions of design, color, and form, as well as the overarching question of exactness and how literal to be in the details — right down to the feathered caps and embroidery. The driving forces behind this project? The concept of masks, identity, and mystery, as well as a search for truths both hidden and revealed by the costumes and face paint of Kuhn’s subjects.

Alastair Dacey, Clown Study Inspired by Walt Kuhn, charcoal and white chalk on brown paper

“As a painter, I am impressed with Kuhn’s pared-down designs,” Dacey says. “I see what Kuhn meant when he described one of his paintings as ‘a lump of weighted form . . . the universal substance of art . . . Cezanne chopped it up to see how it was made; his followers fool with the pieces. Here it is whole again.’ I’m fascinated by how Kuhn reconciled the face paint and costumes to the eyes and inner life of his solitary, often aloof subjects. In many of his best portraits you don’t just see, you encounter someone.”

For admirers and artists seeking to study Kuhn themselves, Dacey will lead a painting workshop entitled “The Art of Recreating” on October 19 at the Center. During this event, Dacey will describe his series of portraits and walk through the process of exploring Kuhn’s work and using it as a catalyst to inspire, reinvent, and recast new works of art. Dacey says, “There is nothing like the task of re-creation to prompt an eye for detail. Trying to pair textures and colors with materials, and figure out the cut and drape of a dress, or how a hat should fit provokes the refrain, ‘my, he leaves a lot to the imagination,’” Dacey says. Registrants will be provided with the necessary tools, including canvas, paint, and paintbrushes.

Alastair Dacey, Drawing Inspired by Walt Kuhn’s “Chico in Silk Hat,” charcoal and white chalk on brown paper, 24 x 18 in.

Alastair Dacey received formal training at the Rhode Island School of Design, Ingbretson Studios in New Hampshire, and Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy. Since 2010, he has lived and worked in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, area. A skilled landscape and still life painter, Alastair focuses most intently on the portrait and human figure. His love of observation, precise draughtsmanship, and the painterly search for values and color put his working methods squarely within the 19th-century aesthetic tradition. He is an active painting instructor, teaching workshops and accepting residencies and private students. Alastair’s work is in noteworthy collections including the St. Botolph Club and the New Hampshire State House.

“Le Masque and Kuhn’s Metaphors” will feature an atelier led by the artist on October 19, by registration only at frenchculturalcenter.org. The exhibition will run through November 10, 2018, at the French Cultural Center (Boston, MA).


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