Today, acrylics seem to rule the world of art: They dry fast, brush well, and scrape off easily. It's a treat, then, to see at least two internationally recognized artists still surrendering to the pleasures of oil.
British painter Jack Hellewell's scumblings of oil mixed with the textures of paper are a testament to the medium's grace and power. His abstract landscapes, currently on display at Art International Asheville, draw on and continue the traditions of English landscape painter Paul Nash, French abstractionist Nicolas de Stael, with a hint of modern Swiss master Paul Klee. Hellewell's paintings evoke the scenery of the British coastline, belying a special fondness for Yorkshire. Among his startling compositions are "The Minister," in which block-like cathedral towers rise against a fire-red sky, and "Australian Blue," with its measured dots of quiet, island colors.
And, unlike a number of his contemporaries, the 77-year-old Hellewell continues to expand his search for form, a process that the real artist knows never ends.
Six other renowned artists from across the globe are also represented in the show. A standout among them is Hungarian artist Arpad Muller, whose larger canvases dominate their share of the exhibit's space, their compelling patterns easily discerned from across the room.
Muller was one of only 15 artists worldwide to receive a scholarship from the Art Dealers of America in 1988 (the same year he won Germany's Nuremberg Durer Award for a series of etchings). The money funded several months of travel across the United States, during which Muller rendered his singular artistic impressions. His work has since been exhibited in Germany, Holland, Austria, Sweden, Canada, Lebanon and, of course, the United States.
Like Hellewell, Muller eschews acrylics for oil. The results are often whimsical homages to European poster art.
"Make-Up" features a large smiling mouth -- its upper teeth available for counting -- and a black ball of an eye that's straight out of a Joan Miro abstraction (no mean feat). "Teddy Bear" is just that: a hodgepodge of bears, heavy on pattern repetition. "Bethlehem," a seasonal salute, surrounds yon Virgin with doves, rabbits and even a cow or two, in a stable lit by a star at stage right. And "Fish Dinner" displays a transcendentally surreal melange of food and waiters, moving through a soundless world.
Don't think Muller ignored his figure-drawing homework, either: In "Tennis Player," a tightly knit racquet is grasped by an expertly executed arm, with an accomplished hip below (and, miraculously, in the right place). The painting captures precisely the amount of action needed to propel the ball in a winning direction -- the same one in which both these artists continue to move.