Dazzling depictions of objects that tell a story
● By J. Chambless
'Lunch Time at the Car Shop'
By John Chambless
Bill Ewing made his reputation for his still lifes, which have the stately grace of Old Master paintings. As you walk around "Subjects Matter," his solo show at the Chadds Ford Gallery, you're struck by his impeccable renderings of surfaces.
The thin skins of fruits gleam with succulent detail, and the reflections in silver pots and bowls are nothing short of magical. The distorted reflections of table edge, nearby objects and details of Ewing's studio and easel are rendered with photo-realist precision. Get close enough to the paintings, though, and the razor-sharp details prove to be perfectly applied little swipes of paint that coalesce only at the right viewing distance. You can stand and see what Ewing has done with the paint, but still not figure out his alchemy.
While the smaller still lifes are very satisfying, Ewing gets more ambitious with large arrangements of objects that suggest a backstory. These objects – tools, bottles, fishing tackle or engine parts – are just as finely rendered and add up to create a personality for whoever owns them. The character we draw from the whiskey bottle, drug paraphernalia, cigarettes and false teeth in one tableau is very different from the mechanic behind "Lunch Time at the Car Shop," for instance.
Ewing's quiet, shadowy "Jesus After Rembrandt" portrait is understated and perfect. His large self-portrait at the easel, "Him Painting Himself," echoes centuries of artistic traditions.
Given the elegance of his still lifes, he's perhaps less successful with his comical scene of a wild west saloon, which is nicely painted but almost cartoonish. His view of a couple in a restaurant booth doesn't quite spring to life, either. Ewing's many collectors will be debating a few pieces, such as "Motor Head," a portrait in which huge exhaust pipes and a racing engine figure prominently.
Ewing certainly deserves credit for stretching beyond paintings of fruit and silver, but it's hard to get past the fact that the still life paintings are his signature accomplishments. They're a tough act to follow. Don't miss your chance to see them.
"Subjects Matter" will continue through Nov. 30. The gallery's annual "Christmas in Miniature" show opens on Dec. 3. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 610-388-2412 or visit www.awyethgallery.com.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.