Sunday, April 26, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Sculpture Gardens features Strosberg paintings

Full Bloom, by Serge Strosberg.

By Jan Engoren

In the art of Serge Strosberg, men and women from all walks of life embody the timeless concepts of love, lust and hope.

And they often do so accompanied by flowers.

The Belgian-born artist’s works are currently on view at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in an exhibit of 15 paintings titled Of Men and Flowers. The showing lasts through May 3.

Strosberg, who now lives in New York, recently returned to Palm Beach after a long winter of painting.

“Coming back to Palm Beach is a homecoming of sorts for me,” Strosberg said. “When I came from Paris in 2006, my very first American show was at the Lighthouse Center for the Arts. Many of my collectors and contacts from the art world live in the Palm Beach area or winter here during season.”

“I love the sunny weather and the dynamic art scene, and the many outdoor cafés that line the avenues remind me of Europe.”

However, far from sipping martinis on the beach or drinking a café crème at the café, Strosberg is busy painting and exhibiting his works. Over the past 12 months, his paintings have been on exhibit in Germany and France, he has traveled to China, and also has had two successful New York shows.

SoHo, by Serge Strosberg.

Those New York shows -- Strosberg: Paris-New York, and The Dorian Gray Syndrome --made something of a splash in Soho, where New Yorkers including Prince Lorenzo Borghese, artist Agathe de Bailliencourt, Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bündchen and socialite Annabel Vartanian (subjects of Strosberg’s portrait, Gisele and Annabel) mingled with art collectors and downtown artists.

The combination of Strosberg’s European sensibilities, realistic expressionism, recently acquired New York patina and current fascination with New York socialites imbue his work with a critical, almost anthropological look at contemporary life and society.

At 42, Strosberg is consumed with questions of identity and culture, truth and deception, and the internal world of his subjects. “After years of exploring identity, I've become more interested in the complexity of human relationships,” he said.

In 2003, Strosberg (at right) was retained by the prestigious Belgravia Gallery in London to paint portraits of the English gentry. Recently, he has been commissioned by a Palm Beach collector (who wishes to remain anonymous) to create a 100-inch-by-70-inch painting to accompany the David Hockney and James Rosenquist paintings the patron already holds.

Besides the inner lives of his subjects, Strosberg is fascinated by flowers. Since the Renaissance, flowers have been used in portraiture to symbolically convey non-verbal themes.

“I chose the theme of flowers because flowers are timeless and eternal,” he said. “The natural beauty, fragrance, variety, and ephemeral quality suggest femininity and sexuality.”

With flowers as metaphor, Strosberg explores the notions of idealized masculinity and femininity, the contradictory nature of human emotions, the duality of self, our search for beauty, love, happiness and fulfillment and the paradoxes of our modern lives.

The voluptuous Full Bloom depicts a woman in red-and-white gingham dress lying on her side, her head resting on her right hand, her left arm draped languorously across her waist, with a rapt expression on her face. In the lower right hand corner of the portrait we see a soupçon of white orchids, also in full bloom, gracefully accompanying the white in her dress and gracing the portrait with an air of sensuality.

SoHo reveals a young woman dancer posed in a black dress with a pattern of black flowers. The colors belie Strosberg’s intentions; despite the darkness of the colors, there is a lightness about the portrait. The woman’s gracious pose and posture are in alignment with the delicateness of the long-stemmed flowers. She is shown sipping from a wine glass, resting lightly on a windowsill, her eyes gazing slightly downward. What is she thinking?

Cynthia Palmieri, director of the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, said she is happy to have Strosberg’s work on display. “Serge is a very serious artist and serious about his commitment to his portraits,” Palmieri said. “We are honored and privileged to exhibit his paintings and have him back here in Palm Beach.”

Strosberg was in Palm Beach in January for the Palm Beach3 Contemporary Art Fair and is readying a solo exhibit for a gallery in Paris next fall. In April, his works will be included in a group show in New York at the 14th St.Y.

The painter is currently working on a group portrait of New York club-scene celebrities for the National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture, and on an installation for Yeshiva University titled Genealogy.

That painting explores Strosberg’s family roots in Spain, which date back to the 15th century. The work is currently in Osnabrueck, Germany, as part of a group show titled The Hidden Truth, alongside works by Soutine, Rothko, and Lucien Freud.

Jan Engoren is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays. Admission is free for members, while the suggested donation for visitors is $5. The Gardens are at 253 Barcelona Road in West Palm Beach. For more information, call 832-5238 or visit www.ansg.org.

Fang Yang, by Serge Strosberg.

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