Big, bold, and full of dark, dreamlike intrigue, new paintings by New York City artist Whit Conrad will be featured in an exhibit opening May 6 at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y.
A painter who studied at the New York Studio School and maintains a studio in Long Island City, Queens, Conrad’s show is entitled Playing What’s Not There. It’s a reference to a Miles Davis quote: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
“In this new collection of vivid, playful, and idiosyncratic paintings, Whit Conrad has applied the jazz legend’s advice to his own work with signature gusto,” says an introduction to the new works by the artist’s son-in-law, Lucas Farrell. “While Conrad’s paintings often begin in a recognizable setting, sounding familiar notes in the viewer—a jazz club (“Jazzed Up”), a birthday party (“Birthday Party”), a polling place (“Electors”), a gathering around a dinner table (“Comanche Diptych”)—they always journey into those liminal zones between notes. … .” In “Jazzed Up,” Farrell says, viewers “are quickly led to an improvised world, where deeply felt elements of the experience—for instance, the musician’s hands pounding the keys furiously—suddenly proliferate like flowers blooming in time-lapse. Not surprisingly, the tempo upticks, and the canvas moves and sways.
Reminiscent of a George Grosz tableau, the vivid décor takes on a life and direction(s) of its own, and suddenly several narratives present themselves, beckoning further inquiry.”
Each painting begins with a particular image, which becomes the artist’s companion in a journey of imagination, filtered through the demands of the artistic medium. “Together we evolve, complicate, suffer, celebrate, transform,” says Conrad, for whom painting is both difficult and cathartic, as he tries to paint with abandon. “Without a map and without direction, we are free to wander recklessly. Eventually, the painting itself takes over as guide, steering us toward some unexpected destination.”
Conrad, who lives in Manhattan and Bedford, N.Y., came to painting late. For more than three decades, he was a corporate lawyer in Manhattan, and he has degrees from Yale and Harvard Law School.
He was formerly a trustee of the Vermont Studio Center, and board chairman for seven years. That affiliation inspired Conrad to enroll in the New York Studio School, where he studied for three years in the Certificate program.
The school’s dean, painter Graham Nickson, collects a piece of art by one student each year, and chose a painting by Conrad for his office. “It was like winning the lottery,” said the artist, who recounts receiving affirmation that his work contains the three requisite elements of good painting; an understanding of the formal elements, poetry (a sense of metaphor), and mystery.
Conrad was also singled out by Forbes in 2016 as an artist to watch, and the new works at The Lionheart Gallery demonstrate his fulfillment of that promise.
Among his credits, Conrad has exhibited in the New York Studio School alumni show, curated by Leslie Heller Workspace, at Gallery Sensei in New York and London, and at the Katonah Museum of Art, where he is also a trustee.