© Eteri Chkadua

Eteri Chkadua: The Foreign Bird, 1999
oil on linen, 44 x 58 inches, 111.8 x 147.3 cm

Eteri Chkadua, Paolo Maione, Jan Worst

Sperone Westwater is pleased to announce the simultaneous exhibition of three one-person shows: Soviet Georgian painter Eteri Chkadua, Italian sculptor Paolo Maione, and Dutch painter Jan Worst.

Eteri Chkadua's classical techniques and ongoing exploration of the human condition have long inspired comparisons with 16th century Flemish painting. But although her new paintings continue to demonstrate Chkadua's impeccable style, their intimate portrayal of the diverse temperaments of individual women mark a departure from the Breughel-esque tableaux of her past work. The female subjects bear a striking physical resemblance to Chkadua herself, but she does not consider them self-portraits; rather, she says, "they are a collection of characters who happen to look like me".

In "Dowry", 2003 (a painting which gives currency to her preferred appellation of "hallucinatory realist"), a voluptuous red-haired woman clad in white mink assumes a floating, yogic pose. Her bewitching expression is simultaneously knowing, childlike, delighted, and coy, and it is not surprising that Chkadua considers expressions her greatest preoccupation. Finally, though the subject's attire suggests that of a 1950s American movie star, she holds in her arms a traditional Georgian sword. Chkadua's grandfather gave her a similar one when she married an American, but perhaps it is not the only dowry in "Dowry"; perhaps the fusion of cultures the work suggests is the greatest gift its heroine can give to the future.

Following his recent exhibition at the Casa Italiana at New York University, Paolo Maione, who lives and works in Reggello, Italy, will be showing a number of figural, brightly-colored busts and allegorical figures. Maione has always remained faithful to the long ceramicist tradition of which he is a part, and though his clay and metal figurines suggest a cast of characters drawn from the folklore of another era, their archaic qualities endow them with a certain universality and timelessness. As well as ingenuous sculptures of young boys and old men, whose expressions evoke the tragi-comic masks of Commedia dell'arte, Maione frequently endows the donkey and other animals with human attributes, clothing, and accessories.

Donkeys have long played an important role in man's fictitious world, from the fables of Aesop, Phaedrus, and La Fontaine, to Giordano Bruno's "The Ass of Cilleno" (in which he asks whether it is preferable "that a man become asinine, or an ass humanize himself"). Maione's own humanistic portrayal of the donkey continues this tradition, and suggests his individual search for truth to be characterized by such "asinine" inclinations as determination, patience, and grace.

Dutch painter Jan Worst believes his work falls "between a rigid academic painting (and) a form of art which "cynically" appropriates everything it can use". The collage-like quality of his large canvases - which depict images of lavish, traditional European interiors; beautiful, languorous women; and wide-eyed, jaded children culled from architectural and fashion magazines - is in sharp contrast to the meticulous, realist style in which they are painted.

It is not surprising that Worst cites cinema of the sixties and seventies as his greatest influence; not only do the dramatic lighting and cold, aristocratic settings which characterize his paintings suggest the films of Visconti and Antonioni, but the complex social encounters they portray force the viewer into the role of voyeur. But whether one reads this artist's work as a critique of the dolce far niente of the idle rich; as a wistful lament for a kind of decorum that is quickly becoming extinct; or as a "shameless homage to the beautiful", it remains impossible "to make a clear distinction between reality and fantasy, between the objective and the subjective, between the actual and the virtual".

Exhibition: 9 June - 30 July 20044
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri 10 am - 6 pm (summer opening hours)

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