Darling Artist

Mar 20, 2007

By Jessica Kraft

Every so often an artist emerges who  occupies a space in-between the classical categories of artistic media. The American Jeff Bark is one of them. Technically, he is a photographer—he works with a camera, film, and all of the accoutrements of the mise-en-scène. But his medium, for all visual purposes, is painting. His luxuriant, richlydetailed nudes set in domestic spaces recall the Dutch masters, and his care in selecting lighting and exposure is more like the attentive solicitude of a still-life painter. His subjects look languorous, the details of their lives encoded in objects displayed around them: telephones, cigarettes, plastic toys, cheap furniture. But there is no narrative—we gather an impression solely from what we see; the images are in the tradition of allegory.

His career began in the most literal of representational worlds :fashion photography.The tableaux of Victoria’s Secret, Vogue and Sports Illustrated didn’t feed his creative soul, however,
and he started recruiting very un-professional models to pose for these more artistic pictures that don’t serve the twin purposes of vanity and commerce. And he started shooting male nudes—a rare focus these days when female air-brushed perfection is the current fancy, even for the contemporary art world. For “Abandon,” his first solo art show at Michael Hoppen Gallery in London, Bark showed full-body portraits of models he found on Craigslist.The figures are coaxed into seemingly awkward poses and contrasted against brooding backgrounds with soft, matte lighting that brings to mind the luminescent brush of Rubens or Ingres.

He must have wanted to rebel against the quick-flash shutterbug alacrity of the glossy fashion world, as all of these images show a slow, steady, calm state of imperfection.The models arecaptured during moments of exhalation, relaxation, and, in one case, utter backward collapse, in untitled works which are distinguishable only by one word, in parentheses.

In Untitled (Drag) (2006), a man appears sitting bentlegged on his unmade bed, slowly letting out cigarette smoke from beneath his disheveled hair. Just viewing this image seems to relax the viewer—helping us recover from the damages of the day. InUntitled (Fawn) (2006), a woman reclines haphazardly against an ottoman, one hand dipping idly into a bowl of popcorn. An old-style film reel is perched on the couch next to her bent leg. As in a Vermeer, the scene is lit from a window on the left, and as in a classical nude, the ivory tones of her torso convey more than just nudity, but the delicacy and purity of female contours,akin to marble. The posture of the man in Untitled (Hung) (2006) is a near mockery of the baroque still-life. His flacid genitals,perfectly centered in the frame, form the disappointing nexus ofa dimly lit assemblage of thick ropes, wooden crates, and stuffed birds. His head isn’t visible behind his barrel chest and splayed legs. One can only guess how he could possibly have fallen into this position, but the beauty of the absurdity is part of the picture’s appeal.