New York

Simon Faibisovich

Phyllis Kind Gallery

The meticulously rendered patterns of reflective and transparent glass in the paintings of Muscovite Simon Faibisovich have led many to associate the artist with Western photorealism. But in the present show Faibisovich employs a range of styles and compositional strategies, and the constant lies in his subject matter: ordinary people in uneventful moments of ordinary days. Faibisovich’s past series have included people riding on or waiting for public transportation and people waiting on line for food and other consumer goods. The new paintings continue the waiting motif, though it is seldom clear what the figures are waiting for, if anything. Middle-aged men linger on street corners, old women cluster on park benches—immobile fixtures in the urban landscape. Faibisovich’s figures convey a barely suppressed anger—not, as one might expect, emanating from the alarmingly young, seemingly innocent soldiers of Train Station, Waiting (all works, 1989) or the distracted plainclothes officers of Holiday Parade: Civil Police, but from the unsmiling eyes and hardened jaws of poorly dressed workers and shabby old women.

Faibisovich has an eye for the conspicuously clumsy symmetries and semicomic patterns of city life. Train Station, Waiting is divided exactly in half by a window mullion, with a male figure positioned on each side; in Holiday Parade: Civil Police, three men smoke cigarettes that dangle at identical angles; in Smooth Character, a man with a prominent beak stands smoking in front of a cigarette ad’s cartoon image of a smoking camel. Faibisovich also manipulates color in curious, self-conscious ways. Though the golden tones of sunset wash over many of his scenes, he often strips his backgrounds of color, giving them a ghostly aura in contrast to the rest of the composition. He does continue the photorealist preoccupation with reflected glass; the background of Train Station, Waiting is a watery layering of traffic seen through plate-glass. Works such as Negative: Russian in New York and The Bench: Double Exposure allude directly to photographic processes, and it is clear from the casual, snapshot aspects of the compositions that the artist works from photographs.

Faibisovich is a skillful painter and his canvases serve as detailed documents of life in Moscow and, in a few instances, New York (the two look surprisingly similar). Less clear is Faibisovich’s motive for his complex formal games, for the contrived patterns and reflective surfaces imposed over what are essentially genre paintings of life in its typical spontaneous disorder. Faibisovich does not imbue light with metaphorical or spiritual significance, and so the strange luminosity of his images creates an intriguing but ultimately perplexing contrast with the bleak subject matter.

Lois E. Nesbitt