Drake Deknatel at Elizabeth Leach Gallery
As a relative newcomer to the greater Northwest art community, I am often at a
loss when discussions arise regarding all but the most prominent of local artists.
The upside of this situation is that it is still possible for me to be surprised.
suggested that I see the paintings of the late Drake
. While I took his recommendation under advisement, I didnt
think Id be writing about Deknatels
, first, because that would mean two reviews of Leach exhibits in as
many months, and because I dont have a strong relationship with a lot
of contemporary painting.
I will, however, admit to a long-held notion that fertile ground can be found
in the medium when a painter plays with the boundaries of abstraction and figuration.
I am not alone in this notion, or in the assessment that Deknatels painting
often succeeds in this challenge, especially in the work just prior to his death
in 2005. The surfaces of his canvasses are richly textured, and the figures,
while standing apart, also blend with the field in which they are positioned,
thereby reinforcing the dynamic quality of the work. To over-use a phrase, Deknatel
is clearly a painters painter, which is all well and good, for his proficiency
with paint will hold ones gaze; however, it is still not enough to make
me put pen to paper merely to reiterate what has already been better said elsewhere.
Leach has titled this exhibit, Small Paintings. The paintings are
arranged in two groupings, each with one large painting and several corresponding
smaller paintings. One group shows a person holding what appears to be a satchel.
The large painting in this first group is titled Boy Sisyphus (2005).
The smaller ones in this grouping are untitled, but all have notations on the
back that read either Figure with Ammo or Man with Ammo.
The second group revolves around a large painting in which a figure stands with
a similar posture to the other set, yet in this group holds a toy airplane.
All of this second set is untitled, although the large piece has the notation
I wish I could fly, and for the small ones, Figure with plane.
The treatment in all of the small paintings from both groupings varies significantly
from that of the large paintings, as well as between themselves. As studies,
the palette, textures and details of the surface and figure change, and their
interest lies in those differences. Even so, one must ultimately return to the
large paintings that they reference.
Deknatel's Boy Sisyphus
In Deknatels Boy Sisyphus, no mountain is visible, as the
background is an over-painted void. However, the figure is shaped somewhat like
a pyramid with very large feet and a smallish head. If the boy in the picture
has a boulder to push ahead of him time and again up a mountain, it may be an
inner struggle. The other large painting, annotated with I wish I could
fly, suggests a desire to escape or rise above. Overall, Small Paintings
consists of reflections on the artists youth, and nostalgia of that sort,
particularly when life becomes tenuous, necessarily encompasses a meditation
on mortality. The mood in Leachs back room takes on a somber tone despite
the vibrant colors.
Drake Deknatel died of a heart attack not long after having open-heart surgery.
Many of the small paintings at Leach were completed during his presumed convalescence.
These facts are thoroughly covered in the number of articles and eulogies written
shortly after and since his death, and it is therefore almost impossible to
relate to the paintings on any other terms than from the romantic notion that
beauty sometimes comes with facing the inevitable. Regret turns to release.
But Deknatels message, not only for those among us who are of sufficient
years or similar health, but for all with eyes to see, would not be so poignant
without his mastery of the medium.