POINTS of VIEW – SBCAF’s new two-painter exhibition finds an experiment in alienation

AT TOP, 'POD 3,' PAUL WINSTANLEY; ABOVE, 'EPIPHANY MODEL: THE PHOTOGRAPHER 2,' PETER ROSTOVSKY
AT TOP, ‘POD 3,’ PAUL WINSTANLEY; ABOVE, ‘EPIPHANY MODEL: THE PHOTOGRAPHER 2,’ PETER ROSTOVSKY

The “Parallax” view is a fixed point that seems to move when seen from two slightly different viewpoints. The perspectives from a left eye and a right eye are one example. The works of Paul Winstanley and Peter Rostovsky represent it as well, as the two artists who make up Contemporary Arts Forum’s new show — opening Saturday — look at similar things in very different ways.

Wistanley focuses on lonely, alienating interiors, from corporate offices to university common rooms. Rostovsky’s work ranges over many subjects and mediums, but this show will focus mostly on his “mediated landscapes.” Both artists provide new ways of looking at the world around us, and CAF’s publicity provides a tasty hint of the artists’ overlap: Rostovsky’s “Curtains” and Winstanley’s “Veil 15.” Both feature curtains, the former deep, red and mysterious with hints of the theater, while the latter is white, translucent and divided into sections by the window panes behind.

'FLOATING GYMNAST,' PETER ROSTOVSKY
‘FLOATING GYMNAST,’ PETER ROSTOVSKY
'INTERIOR WITH A RED CHAIR,' PAUL WINSTANLEY
‘INTERIOR WITH A RED CHAIR,’ PAUL WINSTANLEY
'NIGHT WALKWAY 4,' PAUL WINSTANLEY
‘NIGHT WALKWAY 4,’ PAUL WINSTANLEY
“There’s a lot of connections,” Winstanley says. “There’s a slightly different cultural viewpoint that informs the work. This is one of those shows that’s difficult to anticipate the energy level between the two bodies of work.” Sparks, one hopes.

In Winstanley’s interiors, one can glimpse hints of Edward Hopper, but he also points to Danish painter Vilhelm Hammersh¯i. However, Winstanley’s images are of public spaces that are “failing to live up to expectations.” Having grown up in post-war England, he found public spaces a big part of his experience, where ambition for a space’s use was never matched by reality.

His views of television viewing rooms in college dormitories not only ask us to see a painting, but also seem to perch on the edge of switching on. At the same time, the idea of a shared television room is going the way of old media, with portable devices in every student’s hands.

Winstanley works from photographs, sometimes a collage of them, to get to his final image. From a distance, his work may look like photorealism, but on closer inspection, it eschews sharpness, going for ethereal nature instead.

“My interest in photography is psychological. It represents a moment in time that has gone, so it relates to the idea of memory of that respect. There’s a layer of time in the painting, embedded in there somehow,” he says.

While Winstanley likes to take the people out of his paintings, Rostovsky puts them back in. His mediated landscapes, as he calls them, feature delicately painted panoramas, that by themselves would be unthreatening and pleasant landscape work. But in front of the canvas, Rostovsky places small figures, who regard the landscape with wonder, like us. (Some are mountain climbers, some are tourists.)

The allusions to Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Mist” are there, indeed, but Rostovsky’s placement renders these paintings into diorama, making us aware of scale and banality.

Rostovsky’s other work blots out the landscape — in the “Blindness” series, for example, the rolling hills are barely distinguishable — or focuses on figures without a landscape, as in his figure studies of gymnasts frozen in time, with a glaring light that suggests a televisual light.

Rostovsky had to battle modernist and expressionist tendencies in his art education to arrive at a set of classical painterly skills, and now he feels part of a generational moment, bringing back representation.

“In a way, I look on us as two scientists,” Rostovsky says of himself and Winstanley. “Two scientists, working on the same project in different locations, who are coming up with similar experiments with similar proofs.”

The Unicorn Chaser Charlotta Westergren turns back to medieval tapestry for inspiration

“Run to Ground,” the exhibition opening the same day as “Parallax” in Contemporary Art Forum’s side gallery, comes from a very different place than Paul Winstanley’s English modernism and Peter Rostovsky’s New York dynamic. Instead, painter Charlotta Westergren finds her inspiration in the fairytales and childhood memories of her native country, Sweden.

Her father, a journalist, moved the family around a lot, but every summer was spent in a family house to the south of Sweden, so Westergren grew up wandering the woods.

“I sort of believed in fairytales,” she says. “It finds its way into the culture that is very specifically Nordic.” Here in the States, she says, fairytales — unicorns, elves and gnomes — are cartoonish and kitschy.

So her art has been a way of reclaiming the serious magic of her childhood. Westergren professes an interest in medieval art and the Wunderkammer of the wealthy European elite.

“By owning the sand of the Sahara or a narwhal tusk, they thought these objects held power,” she says. “They were seeing how big the world really was and so they retreated into magic and mysticism. And we’re sort of at the same point today.”

Westergren also noticed the similarities between the work she does and that of court painters. With only rich people able to afford her work, she wondered if an artist’s lot in life has really changed, no matter how politically aware she might be.

Up to the date of the exhibition, Westergren is preparing her selection and working on new art, so it’s hard to say what will actually be hung, and she can’t even count the number of pieces under consideration. The far wall will definitely be taken out by a large work on paper, about 50 square feet, based on the Museum of Cluny tapestries found in Paris. The work portrays a unicorn subdued by a maiden, and because a majority of the detail is done in the background and not on the figures, the viewer is forced to work with the painting. Westergren’s techniques for these recent works are medieval ones, self-taught and researched. Some paintings take up to seven weeks to create.

“It’s a nod to that period,” Westergren says, “and I’m connecting with the tapestry makers of the past. To be the painter I am today, it doesn’t really make any sense in the world of the Internet. I feel like the last blacksmith.”

‘PARALLAX: PAUL WINSTANLEY AND PETER ROSTOVSKY,’ ‘RUN TO GROUND: CHARLOTTA WESTERGREN’
When: Runs Saturday through Dec. 19
Where: Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo (upstairs)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Closed Monday
Cost: Free
Information: (805) 966-5373, www.sbcaf.org

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