New York

Paul Georges

Anne Plumb Gallery

Paul Georges’ recent paintings are huge and unabashedly allegorical. In all of them, a naked Diane, usually suspended in the firmament, pursues an earthbound Actaeon. The figures and the landscapes are oneiric—half fantasy, half nightmare. Georges uses a particularly vibrant, saturated red, sometimes streaking the sky with it or using it as a bloody backdrop. But he is not at all Actaeon-like as a painter; he is too much a master of the situation. His facility with brushwork served his previous paintings well, giving his color a distinctive density and texture. But in these paintings his mastery closes down certain routes that this particular myth might have opened up.

The images themselves are lush, the bodies heavy, the sky baroque. The paintings are sensual but hardly transgressive, at least not in any radical sense. Diane and Actaeon: Unnatural World and The Red Diane and Actaeon, both 1987–1988, possess the richness of expensive Christmas cards. In The Red Diane and Actaeon, 1987–88, the goddess is suspended in the sky like a superheroine run amok. There is a definite weight in the figure’s limbs, but instead of lounging recumbent, she is poised to kill. In most of the works, her sexual attributes are also hidden. She wears a crescent moon in her short dark hair, but she is no seductive nymph. In all the paintings, Actaeon runs through the dreamscape on two legs—he has the body of a man and the head of a deer, and wears a hunting vest. In Diane and Actaeon: Unnatural World, he turns his head back to face the dogs ready to tear him to pieces. This figure seems cartoonish, hardly mute with fear.

These images of a mythical femme fatale flying through the air, pursuing the possessor of the male gaze, never approach any real rereading of the myth. Instead, they employ classical mythologies in a somewhat glib manner; that Actaeon is dressed in a hunting vest, for instance, fails to make this myth speak to the contemporary viewer in powerful and evocative ways. And Diane’s murderous primitivism smacks too much of a kind of fatal objectification. Ultimately, Georges’ use of classical mythology is reactionary. Georges has made some beautiful paintings, but these objects fall short of opening up to the viewer new spaces of meaning and vision.

Catherine Liu