May 162023

“Salon, Apartment of Valerian Rybar and Jean-Francois Daigre, Rue du Bac, Paris”, 2015, acrylic paint, acrylic caulk, acrylic transfer, GAC 800 on canvas mounted on wood

“Salon, Apartment of Valerian Rybar and Jean-Francois Daigre, Rue du Bac, Paris”, 2015, (detail)

“Salon, Rue du Bac, Paris”, 2022, acrylic and acrylic caulking on canvas mounted on board

“Salon, Rue du Bac, Paris”, 2022, (detail)

“Aquarium (Taboo)”, 2019

“Aquarium (Taboo)”, 2019

Currently at Arsenal Contemporary are Dorian FitzGerald’s paintings for his exhibition Fitzcarraldo. The images above are a few of the larger paintings from the show. The works initially look like photographs, but on closer inspection you can see more of the process involved in their creation.

Below is a section from the press release that discusses FitzGerald’s work and the paintings pictured above. For more on the other works shown, including some of the smaller paintings, head to gallery’s website.

FitzGerald has spent the last two decades meticulously crafting a compelling, often monumental body of works, several of which have taken years to finish. His various lines of inquiry revolve around a central tenet: that the excesses, the follies, the deceptions and indulgences, the grand edifices, the opulence, the waste and plunder, the vanities, the subterfuges and the chummy pacts of the wealthy and the powerful, are all fodder for scrutiny. His subjects have ranged from the outdoor stage at the secretive Bohemian Grove during a production of Faust, a fake crown of costume jewelry made by the British to impress the King of Adra and help them facilitate their slave trade, to the staggering array of sunglasses collected by Elton John, to a vast aquarium stocked with black market fish. In this regard, FitzGerald has been compared to a contemporary court painter, albeit one who fully understands the paradox of using ostensibly beautiful works of art to deliver barbed comment on the very subjects he has so painstakingly rendered. FitzGerald’s large paintings are constructed with acrylic paint (and occasionally caulking) in a slow, precise method that the artist has refined in his studio over several years. The pre-process involves researching imagery, preparing it with custom software, making a large-scale acetate transfer onto canvas and then building up the paint slowly in a manner that resembles a kind of pointillism filtered through vector graphics. Both colour theory and the physical properties of paint, such as drying times and viscosity, are brought to bear in the setting of the final image. The infinite patience and granular attention to detail suggest a kinship with Tibetan sand painting. While the latter, once finished, is soon wiped away to drive home the impermanence of all things, FitzGerald’s works tend to hold a mirror up to that innately human wish to be exalted and remembered in the minds of others before the scythe comes down, as it inevitably does for queen, shepherd (and artist) alike.

Anchoring the exhibition is a pair of monumental paintings, both depicting a room in a Parisian apartment. Salon, Apartment of Valerian Rybar and Jean-François Daigre, Rue du Bac, Paris (2015) is the furnished version. Daigre and Rybar’s New York- and Paris-based firm Valerian Rybar & Daigre Design Corporation was renowned for providing the most lavish interior design and decorating for society doyennes from Miami Beach to Marakkesh in the 1970s and 1980s. It was closed following Rybar’s death in 1992. Their clients included Guy and Marie-Helene de Rothschild, Nicholas and Genevieve DuPont, Antenor and Beatriz Patino, Samuel and Mitzi Newhouse, Pierre and Sao Schlumberger, Sir James Goldsmith, Christina Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. They employed a host of artisans all over the world who did anything from paint Medieval tapestries on blank walls to create mother-of-pearl panels for a bathroom. They designed much of the furniture and rugs and were meticulous about the choice of fabrics, using opulent materials like satins trimmed with gold thread. The related painting, four years in the making, acts as a kind of coda. Salon, Rue de Bac, Paris (2022), depicts the same room after Rybar’s death, now an empty hall of mirrors en route to being dismantled. The searing band of red in the centre of the painting, glowing behind a door already off its hinges, is a peek into the molten bedroom that they had once kitted out like a Roman general’s tent.

Aquarium (Taboo) (2018), at 128” long and 40” high, was two years in the making. The painting shows a vibrant aquatic scene, with dazzling exotic fish and a mesmerizing array of coral. But the fish are black market, the coral has been pilfered, the 240-gallon tank is overcrowded with 53 specimens and the entire enterprise is kept alive by a complex system that is wholly unnatural and requires constant vigilance to prevent collapse. Of course, wild fish bound for the aquarium market must be caught alive and thus there exists an unsavoury network of divers who prowl the world’s reefs to find the most exotic and rare, often using cyanide spray to stun them (or inadvertently kill them if too much is used). The cyanide, when it settles on coral, soon kills that too.

This exhibition closes on 5/20/23.