Review by Thaddeus Radell
Cloistered in a modest room of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery are four relatively large and carefully playful paintings by Kyle Staver. The immediate impact is one of exuberant expansiveness, an effect which is rather unsettling and odd as the works are badgered with shapes reeling in open narrative: gape-mouthed fish, a dagger-toothed wolf, a galloping winged horse, an alert deer, trees, clouds, lusty and recklessly sprawled nudes and Pan himself. This seething plethora of forms miraculously never succumbs to the tedious and for the most part revolves around great themes of myth and resounds with echoes of the Masters.
Staver’s strength lies in the intelligent oddity and studied inventiveness of her constructions. These austerely colored puzzles of positive and negative shapes are restlessly poised in dynamic balance, effectively drawing the viewer forward, into and around the image. Each uncanny shape rebounds, pivots and interlocks to create a fluid configuration that breathes. There seems to have been a delight taken in the tooling of a contour, the purge or tuck of form, the knitting of compositional pattern. Staver skillfully couples an aggressive naivete in her drawing with an unexpected attention to detail (the winged horses’ hooves actually have nails..) and the consistent attention to a simplified aesthetic of biomorphic shape. These are pictures conceived in a delirious staging of an informed craft, a pictorial erudition steeped in the tradition of both Modern and Old Master painting, with a sincere and severe sensibility to what might be joyful, even whimsical, in the myth of life.
By far the most imaginative of the four pictures on display is Groupers, a picture that illustrates Staver’s capacity to translate a truly unpromising theme into a valid formal statement. Four monumental gape-mouthed and bulging-eyed fish push to the picture plane as if against the glass wall of an aquarium. In the middle ground floats a creamy and elastic nude whose descent into the dark depths of the sea is softly braked by her outstretched palms. Schools of fish accompany her slow plunge to the lower right, the plasticity of which becomes all the more effervescent as contrasted to the white monster groupers anchored firmly to the format on the left. But succinct as this image may be, its true impact comes back to its oddity. What an odd picture! The singularity of its conception is what is thrilling.
Staver is a brilliant inventor whose success lies in her commitment to her inner vision that is at once original and sophisticated and she is remarkably adept at rendering that vision into cohesive luminous constructs. From a broad, almost confused spectrum of diverse shapes and shielded color, she synthesizes clarity. And so she transforms the modest room allotted her into a theater of sorts, where the viewer can expand their own imagination by feeding into her ever-ebullient, seriously odd vision.
Out of the confusion, as the way is,
And the wonder that man knows,
Out of the chaos would come bliss.
That, then, is loveliness, we said,
Children in wonder watching the stars,
Is the aim and the end.
Kyle Staver’s exhibition continues through November 23 at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue.