Best Painter

William Harsh

The postmodern revolution of a generation ago taught that every kind of experimentation was possible since all representation was unreal and meaningless, a matrix of simulacra. That’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one. The result has been a fair amount of navel-gazing art without much visual or emotional raison d’etre. William Harsh is an old-school modernist who studied with James Weeks and Philip Guston, and reveres heavies like Picasso and Beckmann. A prolific and obsessive artist, he infuses his oils, monotypes, and drawings of stacked, cascading, still-life forms (improvised and imagined) with contradictory sensations: vivid pictorial presence in the interplay of forms and in the direct, powerful brushwork with which they are created; and a metaphysical sense, blending tragedy and comedy, that’s akin to Guston’s and Chirico’s. Such a morally fraught worldview has been out of sync with art-world trends since Abstract Expressionism succumbed to Pop, but Harsh’s intellectual discipline and artistic integrity demonstrate that going against the grain can be done, with conviction.

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