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The Art of Joe Rizzo by Geoffrey Jacques

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<<< WHAT WE SEE would be, were it not for the figures of the man and the bathtub, a typically contemporary monochrome painting. And it would be, in and of itself, a beautiful monochrome at that, with its particularly enthusiastic brushwork and the playful hints of white or light blue peering out from beneath the blue surface.

However, this artist wants to give us more than the typically contemporary monochrome painting. Rizzo seems to want us to ponder the question of whether there is something from within that set of values bequeathed to us from non-objective painting that can help us re-imagine the figurative universe. Interestingly, one way of thinking about this painting is not to stop at what it purports to represent, but to consider, as well, the possibility that what we see here are three flat, monochrome or monochrome-like, compositions in one, each interlocking and conversing with the other. The tub and the human figure are both painted as if the artist is more concerned with the tactile nature of paint on a flat surface than he is with a “realistic” representation of a life world. The allusion to and the suggestion of a particular life-world are still present here, as if the painter is asking us to reconsider the image as such. It is as if he is asking us to think of the image as not only a representation of reality, but as a representation of the reason to engage in the act of painting as such.

All of which raises the question of why should one bother to make paintings at all? Isn't the act itself, in some sense, absurd? The man sits in the tub. There is no suggestion that he is either getting in, or getting out of the tub. He appears to be in a state of suspended animation. His position is absurd and somewhat humorous. At the same time, we can identify with this position. Who hasn't been here? At that moment when we freeze in the middle of a mundane, everyday task, bewildered, absent-minded, wondering what we're doing, and why we're here. The world can be experienced as being very flat at those moments, the moment Rizzo captures with grace and depth in Man in a Tub.

One point that has not been mentioned here is Rizzo's sensuality. There are, of course the subjects that lend themselves to such an assessment (The Red Pillow), and the subject of the sexual body is one with which the painter is obviously concerned. But the same principles that underlay a painting like Man in a Tub, are the basis for all his work. It is a body of work that is well worth exploring.

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Man in a Tub

Mother & Daughter, 1996
Oil on canvas
36 x 36 inches

The Red Pillow

The Red Pillow, 1994
Oil on canvas
22 x 28 inches

About the Author

GEOFFREY JACQUES is a poet and art critic. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art, ArtForum International, and A Gathering of the Tribes. His latest book of poems is Just For a Thrill (Wayne State University Press).

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