Reading through Russell Connor’s brilliant Masters in Pieces II is a bit like wandering into a museum late at night where the subjects of the paintings have all slipped out of their frames to go visiting in the tableaux next door. Van Gogh meets Gauguin; Monet meets Manet; the survivors on the Raft of the Medusa have a heavenly hallucination in the form of Cabanel’s Venus; Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror sees herself reflected as Sargent’s Madame X. It is not a dream; it is the work of a master of the absurd yet lyrical juxtaposition. Witty, irreverent, and revelatory, this collection is a delightful tour of the half-remembered masterpieces we all carry in our heads–masterpieces that may never look the same to us again.
“I understand that humor can be a kind of antidote to pompous seriousness. However, as Connor’s painting evokes a smile on the part of most viewers, it is also problematic, since art is supposed to be serious and his work often calls this earnestness into question. Connor has recognized this issue, as if his style is reverent or irreverent, supportive or subversive, in its view of the subject of art history. Kirk Varnedoe has spoken of this as a certain streak of modernism which is a kind of ‘worm-in-the-apple’ [that] makes people decidedly uncomfortable, because [it] doesn’t seem to have sincerity. I think this uncertainty has hurt the art world’s reception of Connor’s painting. It is time to consider the edgy ambiguity a plus. For Modernists, there was an impenetrable wall between past and present art. For Connor, this barrier is a triumphal arch.” – Irving Sandler, Art critic and historian, from the foreword of Masters in Pieces II
Russell Connor was born in Cambridge, MA, and educated at the Mass College of Art and the Yale School of Art, where he studied with Josef Albers. He has lived in Japan and France and has resided in Manhattan since 1970. He traces the origin of he art history-inspired painting he has been doing for over three decades to a youthful stint as what he calls an instant expert on the art of the world, writing and hosting Museum Open House, a WGBH-TV series from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.