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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

Windows to the World

Art Review

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When first looking at an oil “portrait” by Milwaukee artist Andre Saint-Louis, viewers may feel cheated. All you see is a horizontal slice ranging from the lower third of the nose to just above the subject’s eyebrows. But rest assured that the eyes have it, be they surrounded by wrinkles and/or rimmed by eyeglasses, be they scowling or dreamy, or gazing upward, sideways or into the distance.

The artist’s tightly focused, windows-to-the-world approach pays intense attention to the particular (the eyes), and is a stark contrast to our sound-bite culture where flashy talking heads deliver more and more words with less and less meaning. As I studied the portraits, I found myself wondering if television would benefit from revealing only the eyes of the newscasters.

Saint-Louis’ exhibition runs through Feb. 29 at Grava Gallery (207 E. Buffalo St.), where the long and narrow configuration is a perfect space for the artist’s long, narrow works. A perfect adjunct to this solo exhibit would be an exploration of the many portraits at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but don’t stop with the Early European offerings.

Study Warhol’s Marilyn, the massive portrait (Nancy) by Chuck Close and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s Heads II. To my mind, Ed Ruscha’s Eye, an elongated take on the world of billboard words, is an elegant salute to “less is more.”

(From top) Andre Saint-Louis, Kansas City Look, Foresight, Irish Eyes, Girlish Gaze