Epic narratives and claustrophobic moments: James Stewart and Anda Dubinskis at the List

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This past Friday, the List Gallery held a reception to inaugurate its two newest exhibitions, which will be up through December 14th. The large room is devoted to “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” two continuing narrative series by James Stewart, a painter from Fredonia, Pennsylvania. The smaller room is the perfect setting for Philadelphia painter Anda Dubinskis’s figurative paintings; Dubinskis is currently a visiting assistant professor of studio art at Swarthmore.

In the large room, we are treated to Stewart’s interpretations of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” two epic narratives ranked among the most important stories of all time. Through his explorations, Stewart has more than done them justice. Paintings like “Beginning of the Iliad” and “Three Scenes on Ithaca” are done up in majestic gold leaf; “Three Scenes” even features a border of elaborate punchwork that harks back to the altarpieces of 14th century Siena. The largest canvas in the exhibition, “Destruction of Troy,” features a Trojan horse with a bowed head, all of his energy redirected into the action of hurtling through the burning city.

Less showy, but still impressive, pieces include “Fleeing a Burning City,” in which a bunch of black and red spots coalesce into a bedraggled train of warriors and their horses, and “Odysseus Reclaiming his Palace,” a fighting scene packed not only with swords and action but with striking psychological studies. The final grouping of small canvases showcase Stewart’s depths as an artist; he can capture the private emotions of “Attempting to Protect Child” and “Mourning Woman” just as well as he can awe us with fleets of ships.

It is because of these paintings that the exhibitions complement each other surprisingly well. From human themes treated on the most epic of scales, we move into a room of moments so small and personal as to be claustrophobic. Whoever hung the exhibition should be applauded for their choice to place the women of “First Cut” and “Hatchet” in the center, where they can be seen from Stewart’s room; the women, wearing long dresses and wielding axes, can easily be seen as figures from Greek mythology, and thus facilitate a smooth transition between the artists.

Where Stewart is working from an entire book of context, Dubinskis is interested in stripping the context from her figures and leaving them alone with their emotions. In “Untitled,” a canvas of an old man in blue is juxtaposed with one of a woman’s legs clad in black high-heels. Do they know each other? Have they just turned away from interacting with each other? What does the look on the man’s face mean? Why can’t we see the woman’s face? Dubsinkis’s paintings are unsettling because they leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

Besides “First Cut” and “Hatchet,” the standout in this exhibition of nine paintings and drawings is “Fifteen,” a portrait of a sad-sack teenager who averts his eyes from the viewer in order to focus on his orange sneakers, all against a lemon-yellow background. He may not want to look at us, but we can’t take our eyes off of him, or indeed anything in the List’s newest exhibition, which will be up now through December 14th.

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