May 26, 2003

Painter’s Tough Choices Promote Harmonious Vitality
by Mario Naves


Few artists ask as much of themselves as John Dubrow, whose recent paintings are on display at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries. One need only look at the surface of his canvases to realize that he is constitutionally incapable of settling for the easy out. Each picture—whether it depicts the filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, Jerusalem as seen from a hilltop or a Soho intersection—has been arrived at through a sustained process of painterly inquiry. Describing form through blocky faceting, Mr. Dubrow’s brushwork is rugged and thick, determined and malleable. When the surface is built up to a dramatic level—portions of “Self-Portrait” (2000-01) are almost relief sculpture—we can tell that tough decisions were made. Correct decisions: Forswearing the glib, Mr. Dubrow pushes his pictures to the point where paint and image take on a shared vitality. There’s not a gratuitous or arbitrary moment to be found in them. 

Light is the defining aspect of Mr. Dubrow’s work. Encompassing and humane, it bathes the objects and people in its path with an inquisitive, though not invasive, regard. The new canvases display a healthy continuity, but a couple of them suggest a broadening of Mr. Dubrow’s pictorial goals and, perhaps, a deepening as well. The dry melancholy of “Prince and Broadway” (2002) almost qualifies as Expressionism; a post- 9/11 ambiance makes the painting much more a statement than anything the artist has done before. Even better is “Rephidim” (2001-03): Aaron and Hur hold up the aged Moses’ hands in order to insure Israel’s victory over the Amalekites. A narrative, let alone a Biblical narrative, is the last thing one would expect from Mr. Dubrow, and I suspect I’m fascinated with the picture at least in part because it’s radically atypical. Yet there’s no denying the eloquence he has brought to bear, shading the image with a pensive mixture of resignation and duty. Though Mr. Dubrow asks a lot of himself, it’s the probity of his reply that matters most.