Exhibition Preview: Frick exhibition displays artist's daylong view of Clayton

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Felix de la Concha, A Contrarreloj: A Race Against Time," an exhibition of paintings opening tonight at The Frick Art & Historical Center, is rich both visually and conceptually.


"Felix de la Concha, A Contrarreloj: A Race Against Time"

WHERE: The Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze.

WHEN: Saturday through Oct. 3.

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.


INFORMATION: 412-371-0600 or www.frickart.org.

Schedule of events    

De la Concha is the latest participant in the Frick's Visiting Artist program, which commissions artists to create a body of work that gives contemporary interpretation to the Frick campus.

The Spanish artist and one-time Pittsburgh resident chose Clayton, the Victorian-era home of industrialist Henry Clay Frick and his family, as his focus.

De la Concha carefully selected from Clayton's abundance the subjects for a magnificent series of 48 interiors and still lifes that collectively form a portrait of the Fricks' private life, and the images resonate with the presence of the departed family members.

On a broader scale, through his tour de force depiction of a 360-degree 24-panel 24-hour panoramic view from Clayton's terrace, de la Concha draws attention to, and challenges, conventional ways of thinking about time and place (space).

The artist became familiar to city residents between 1997 and 2001 as he sat at his easel painting outdoors in neighborhoods such as Oakland and Bloomfield.

His "One a Day: 365 Views of the Cathedral of Learning" -- which has appropriately found a permanent home in the Old Masonic Temple on the University of Pittsburgh campus -- was painted for a solo exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art in 1999. One 11-by-9-inch panel was completed each day of the year, the last 40 done after the exhibition opened, replacing blank canvases on the wall daily until the series was finished.

"The Last Supper," 13 tall panels depicting utility poles that he painted in 2000, was purchased for the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center and is permanently installed on its first floor.

De la Concha, who was born in Leon, Spain, in 1962, now divides his time between New Hampshire and Madrid. A superb draftsman, he received his education at the Facultad de Bellas Artes in Madrid, and in Rome after having been awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome at the Academia de Bellas Artes.

He employs his adeptness at naturalistic rendering to advance concepts that underlie the landscapes and objects he portrays.

While the influence of Spanish masters such as Velazquez and Goya is evident in his sumptuous marriage of brush, line and color, de la Concha's concern with time and perspective places him in such modern company as the Impressionists and Cubists. Light, and the lack thereof, is central -- defining ambience, illuminating, fleeting.

The concept of time is pervasive, most blatantly in the panorama, less so in the implication of socio-cultural shifts that occur as eras fade. The exhibition title refers to a Spanish expression that means "against the clock."

To create the panorama, the artist painted from one location, turning hourly to a different view, at times looking across an expanse of grass, at others to a near brick wall and bowed, lace-draped window. Each view was painted twice, 12 hours apart; for example, at noon and at midnight.

The work's clever installation in the Frick Art Museum follows from its concept. The visitor is gently guided by the sweeping curve of a wall that references the terrace de la Concha painted from, to the panorama which is mounted on the outside of a large circular form. To see it, the visitor must travel around the circle, experiencing the work's shifting light and perspective.

Another curve leads to the next gallery and there the rhythm changes from fluidity of view and fusion of concept to the staccato of individual small paintings, each related to but standing apart from the others.

For this complement to the exterior work, with its very public component, de la Concha turned to the intimate spaces once seen only by family and guests. Each of the paintings -- some as detailed and precious as a 17th-century Dutch still life, one composition with brass bed reminiscent of van Gogh -- was completed in one eight-hour day.

The artist, who acknowledged the ritualistic aspect of making them, thinks of them as a visual diary.

The panorama was painted in six summer weeks, and de la Concha chose winter to do the interior paintings. In some, the cold, white landscape is seen through a window beyond the fine furniture and crystal. Such scenes might be read as a metaphor for the family, sequestered in their world of privilege away from houses that winter moved into when it arrived.

The diary panels were completed on weekdays, and on weekends de la Concha painted in the Car and Carriage Museum. Four works from the latter site show particularly well his affinity for composition, and the consistent, if quiet, presence of commentary.

One painting juxtaposes the side of a handsome carriage with a contemporary wheelchair that's parked in the corner and available for visitor use. While like color and form unify the composition, the objects' social roles set up conversation. In another, an almost leering sleek black vehicle seems to hold the potential for modern motoring malfeasance.

DVD catalog

Befitting an exhibition for which motion -- through space, time and history -- is such an important component, the Frick chose to produce a DVD in place of a standard catalog.

The resultant "A Race Against Time: Felix de la Concha at the Frick," a 25-minute documentary by father and daughter filmmakers Kenneth Love and Julia Love, is an artwork in its own right ($12.95).

Sensitively made and beautiful, the film -- which shows the artist at work and intersperses his comments with lyrical views of Clayton's grounds -- is an apt complement to, and will be shown continually throughout, the exhibition.

Pittsburgh-based Kenneth Love, a filmmaker for 30 years, has been frequently nominated for Emmy Awards, winning twice for his contributions to National Geographic specials. Julia Love, who has completed four documentaries, was in Bolivia last year as a Fulbright scholar filming village women leaders. (Both are exhibiting photographs, including some of his National Geographic work, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers through Aug. 1; 412-681-5449.)

In the film, the artist says that he'd like to be a "neutral viewer" but concedes that painting is "always an interpretation." For that, the Frick is fortunate. Out of his predilections, de la Concha has created a vital work that is passionate and considered, poetic and analytical, emotive and intellectual.

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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