A special exhibition of Chuck Webster’s paintings is being presented at Salander O’Reilly Galleries in collaboration with ZieherSmith. The following essay by artist and writer, Brice Brown, elaborates on Webster’s work and specifically this series, Devotional Pictures, inspired by specific pieces in Salander O’Reilly’s exceptional collection of Renaissance painting and sculpture.
Chuck Webster’s jubilation manifests itself with paint on panel in oblique motifs and pulsating colors: It is his triumphant discovery of that living, molten core of possibility lurking under the skin of everyday objects. He trades the casual gaze for x-ray excavation, preferring a sustained, unequivocal devotion to whatever object gets caught in his cross hairs—and he refuses to relent until the object gives up its essence.
Webster’s work has often investigated notions of adornment and decoration—indeed, as a type of ornamental bait he purposefully buffs his paintings to a shiny porcelain-like finish. In the past, his democratic gaze has moved him freely between genres, absorbing fantastical vases by Dagobert Peche; gnashing aquamanilia; intricately carved antique frames; and stately Liao Dynasty burial figures, turning the lot into funky, generous, agreeably hued, quasi-spiritual abstract paintings.
For this exhibition, Webster was invited to turn his devoted eye to the collection of Old Master works housed in the esteemed Salander-O’Reilly Galleries. Investigating masterpieces such as Bernini’s marble benches, a Boticelli Madonna and Child, and Mateo Cerezo’s Crucified Christ, Webster has decided to bring to light those moments in these master’s works that usually go unnoticed: Curlicues on a frame’s edge, the zigzag of a folded sleeve, tiny circles hiding under feet, a soldier’s helmet. Deeming the details as equally important as a work’s more central figures, Webster zooms in on and extracts these details from their original context, giving them new life as wonderfully strange, vibrant paintings. And though Webster’s works are derived from these prime examples of Renaissance art, one should focus less on the source, and consider his paintings more as unearthed codes, offering us the chance to catch a glimpse of his magic.