RON MILEWICZ HAS BECOME A FORMIDABLE PRESENCE among painters of the urban landscape. This, his second exhibition at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, establishes his place as a painter to be reckoned with.
No small part of his achievement derives from his understanding of architecture as a vital part of the tissue of our lives. His interest is less in particular structures than in the way those structures reveal something about the tenor of the city which houses them. The distinction of Milewicz’s work affirms John Ruskin’s assertion that “Architecture is an art for all men to learn because all men are concerned with it.”
On view are nine recent works—eight oil paintings and one drawing, all made over the course of a year from a singe vantage point in Long Island City. Like any landscape painter, Milewicz has to make multiple trips to a chosen location. But he extends the requirement further, establishing a temporary studio in odd spaces for extended study of a particular motif. It is an arduous practice that yields great reward for admirers of his work.
The complex cacophony of forms that, in previous work, raised a blaring voice in high-keyed color is quieted here. A harmony emerges from what might be, in lesser hands, a depiction of incoherent industrial homeliness. The city’s essential nobility of purpose is apparent in such canvases as “Dusk.” A darksome industrial roofscape spans the foreground. It is separated from the length of Manhattan, with its office towers and residential buildings, by a pale stretch of the East River. Dying light glances off ducts and vents close by and grazes off the edges of distant buildings, distinguishing them from the darkening sky. Subtle differentiation of color and tone coalesce to impose unity on the precisely articulated planes and sharply defined edges, taming a confusion of forms.
Milewicz sidesteps the naturalism that characterizes so much urban painting. Instead, there is an expressiveness—partly a matter of color and distribution of tone—that, by indirection, signals the spiritual condition of the modern city. He selects from his surrounding motif a keynote, some structure that serves as the nucleus of the environment depicted. In those suite of paintings, that crucial feature is an ambiguous construction with an octopus-like series of ducts. The dominant image of the large-scale “Cephalopod,” it looms in the foreground as a visual metaphor for the city as an enormous man-eater, something that preys on its unseen inhabitants.
In all, this is an intelligent and beautiful performance.
Ron Milewicz: New Work at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, 529 West 20th St., 212-463-9666. This review appeared first in CityArts, October 28, 2010.
© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey