Christopher Pugliese (b. 1968) is the most recent artist featured in the NEW/NOW Gallery at the New Britain Museum of American Art. His style merges the classical with the contemporary, painting his figures with the grace and anatomical accuracy of the Old Masters while simultaneously creating an air of modern existentialism. His approach to art is partially due to early influences from artists Ted Jacobs (b. 1927), Tony Ryder (b. 1957), and Martha (b. 1937) and Walter Erlebacher (1933-1991). Ted Jacobs created a style known as “Restructured Realism,” described by Jacobs as “the study of perception, and the optimal suggestion paint allows, of what we see. It is a contemporary vision, or perhaps a future one, whose roots are from the past.”¹ Ryder utilizes this style as well and both artists stress the importance of drawing from life.
Pugliese met Jacobs and Ryder while studying at the New York Academy of Art and traveled with them to France, where Jacobs founded L’Ecole Albert Defois, a private art school, in 1987. While in France, Pugliese had the fortune of meeting Martha and Walter Erlebacher, two artists who were well-versed in the artistic rendering of human anatomy. They also embraced classical realism in their work, so it comes as no surprise that Pugliese’s own style reflects what he learned from these artists. It is his hope, however, to make paintings of cultural importance in a century dominated by film and the media. The question of whether or not painting can have meaning at this point in history influenced his compositions, which have become layered with historical references and humor.²
One example of a historical reference in his art is his painting Eve (2005), depicting Eve as a defiant woman holding the apple, with the snake coiling around the bottom right of the painting. She is either not in Eden anymore or the gloomy setting of the painting exists to emphasize her disastrous decision. Another modern twist to an ancient tale is Pugliese’s Ulysses and the Sirens (2003), which is both a narrative and a self portrait. It is not uncommon for Pugliese to place himself in his paintings and, in this particular piece, he embodies Ulysses. Anyone familiar with the story of Ulysses and the Sirens knows that when Ulysses became aware of the sirens, he asked his men to plug up their own ears but to tie Ulysses to the mast of the ship with his ears unplugged so that he could hear their beautiful yet deadly song. This way, the men were immune to the call of the Sirens and Ulysses could listen to their song without endangering his own life or the life of his men.
The interpretation of the classic story is unclear in the painting, however, and the viewer needs to find their own meaning for this contemporary vision of the tale. Who is Ulysses? Who are the Sirens? One would naturally venture a guess that Ulysses is Pugliese himself, but then why are his ears covered and why does it look like he is singing? Are the women the Sirens, lulling him into a false sense of security before they attack? Unlike the original epic, it seems that in this painting, the Sirens have gotten the better of Ulysses and he is vulnerable to them. Another characteristic of his paintings to be aware of is the anatomy of the figures as it is often very detailed and accurate. His painting Black Gold (2006), for example, appears to be a realistic study of the female body, meant to focus the viewer on the exquisiteness of the human form.
Christopher Pugliese’s art will be on view at the New Britain Museum of American Art from October 30th, 2010 until January 23rd, 2011, so be sure to stop in and view his paintings for yourself. There will be an opening reception for the show on Friday, November 5th from 5:30-8PM as part of the First Friday events the NBMAA hosts monthly.
2. New Britain Museum of American Art, “Meaningful Paintings in the Style of the Old Masters” (Press Release) (19 October 2010)