• “Underground Sensibility” – Serge Strosberg

    Date posted: April 25, 2016 Author: jolanta


    Born in Antwerp, Serge Strosberg spent his childhood in Belgium and the
    United States, and received his formal and extensive art education in Paris at
    Academie Julian and Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Striving to enhance his
    knowledge, Strosberg went on to study privately with Jorge Hermle, a highly
    respected German Expressionist artist and professor, who taught him the
    ancient and difficult technique of painting with oil and egg tempera.

    After several successful exhibitions in France, Belgium and the United States
    of compelling figurative paintings and portraits of people he found of interest,
    Strosberg relocated to New York in 2007 for the personal challenges and
    dreams that have always drawn people – particularly artists – to this city.

    Strosberg describes himself as “an expressionist, like the Germans but more
    humanistic and a compassionate observer of the nightlife…” The New York
    nightlife that Strosberg has been observing and which informs some of his
    recent work takes place in underground clubs that don’t come alive until 2AM
    and are populated by straights and gays of all stripes including socialites,
    transvestites, exotically clothed amazons and transsexuals. Like many artists
    before him, particularly those of the London School, Strosberg’s practice also
    includes inviting people he meets during his forays to sit for him as studio

    Strosberg’s use of this aspect of the human drama as subject matter for his
    work, places him in the venerable European tradition of physically and
    psychologically representing “the other” in paintings, drawings and prints. In
    this context, “other” means anyone either outside of or at the margins of
    ‘normal’ society. Rembrandt’s early etchings of tramps, war veterans and
    orphans come to mind, as do Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings and lithographs of
    the performers and denizens of Montmartre’s legendary nightclubs and dance
    halls during the fin-de-siecle. The paintings of Chaim Soutine (a major
    influence on Strosberg) during the late 1920’s of uniformed pastry cooks,
    doormen, hotel and nightclub employees in Paris certainly fall within this
    genre. Among contemporary artists there is no better example of this
    approach to expressionistic portraiture than Lucian Freud’s intimate and
    extraordinary paintings of Leigh Bowery from the early 1990’s. In his
    introduction, to the volume “Lucian Freud” (Random House, 1996), Bruce
    Bernard notes that already, in the 1940’s, “He (Freud) seems to take the
    view that homosexuality in human beings extends the scope of the collective
    human imagination, and that a positive understanding of the ‘queer
    sensibility’ is essential to people involved in art, even when they are not
    disposed that way in any emotional or erotic sense”.

    By substituting “underground sensibility’, a phrase that is culturally
    appropriate and accurately reflects life in early 21st century New York, for
    ‘queer sensibility’, we better understand Strosberg’s quest in challenging his
    talent and intellect by enlarging his field of vision and making art that is
    more intimate and which has human emotion at its core. The remarkable
    paintings, portraits and drawings Strosberg creates using models bear
    witness to the fact that his artistic skills are more than equal to his emotional
    and psychological depth as a humanistic expressionist.

    While many of Strosberg’s models are habitués of New York’s nightlife, the
    fact is that most of his paintings are of beautiful young women, female
    amazons – fashion icons fearless in their stiletto heels and stunning dresses.
    These are neither the obese women of Freud nor are they the bourgeois
    women or the uniformed female domestic servants of Soutine. Strosberg
    is able to capture the bravura of these young women while also revealing the
    unspoken tension between their appearance and their underlying feelings.

    My preference has always been for artists who continually hone their talent
    and take risks, who do not become formulaic regardless of commercial
    success, and who, as Roberta Smith of The New York Times recently pined
    for, actually make things with their hands. Given his unique combination of
    talent, enthusiasm, sophistication, and fascination for his new surroundings,
    my suggestion is that we pay close attention to Serge Strosberg.

    – Essay by Stephen Rosenberg

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