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, June 15, 1929. He had a BFA from Mass. College of Art and an MFA from the Yale School of Art, where he studied with Josef Albers. He lived in Japan and France and resided in Manhattan since 1970. He traced the origin of art history-inspired painting he did, for over three decades, to a youthful stint as what he called 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. http://russellconnor.com/
From https://www.latchkeygallery.com/bio-russell-connor: In addition to exhibiting internationally in museums and galleries, he has done covers and illustrated essays for The New Yorker and The New York Times’ Book Review. He also engaged in the production of films and videotapes about the arts, for broadcast and cable television, for which he won several awards. In addition to being the writer/host for two WGBH series, Museum Open House from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Artists’ Showcase, he hosted a series for Cable Arts, A for Art; a series for HBO, The Artist’s Eye; and a series on experimental video for WNET in New York, entitled VTR: Video and Television Review. He has produced and directed PBS programs for the Whitney Museum of American Art (as Head of their Education Dept.), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, The Asia Society, and The New York Historical Society, and documentaries on New York artists, funded by the New York State Council on the Arts. He collaborated on video art projects with Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, and William Wegman. Mr.Connor lectured at the School of Visual Arts, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the DeCordova Museum School, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Worcester Art Museum School, the University of Rhode Island, the Tama School of Fine Arts, Japan, Hunter College of The City University of New York, The New School University, New York, Brandeis University, The Art Students’ League, The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the École des Beaux Arts, Paris. His paintings are in numerous private and museum collections. For a list of Exhibitions and museum collections, file:///Users/useryou/Desktop/CV,+Russell+Connor.pdf
An in depth, charming interview-article and additional in studio 8 min-youtube video interview: https://wgbhalumni.org/profiles/c/connor-russell/
Excerpt: “This awakening, one of life’s real Second Chances, came from a decision to draw on all that time spent in museums and television, my adventures in the “popularization” of art, rather than consider them wasted as a painter. In spite of the tremendous profusion of art images since WWII, most people have hesitation attributing which work to which artist. I decided to make this muddled mental museum my arena, my playground.
Copying one masterpiece can be boring – putting two together makes a new narrative and a new composition. Borrowing an effect from TV and video art called Chroma Key, in which one can mask out and replace any background, I was able to create fantasy and mystery.
When I combined Rubens and Picasso, or put Manet’s Dead Toreador on the floor beside his Olympia and called it Love and Death, I knew I was launched on an exciting quest – how to copy and be original, how to be serious and make people smile at the same time.”
Robert Storr –
I find Connor’s witty, well-made art delightfully refreshing in contrast to the often sophomoric ironies of post-modernist fine art ‘critique.’ – Robert Storr
Jules Feiffer –
Connor’s approach to art history is that of a magician on canvas. Instead of rabbits out of a hat, he gives us masterpieces out of sync, sleight of art instead of sleight of hand. Wry, witty, thoughtful, and disarming. – Jules Feiffer