by DeWitt Cheng

Guy Diehl | Still Life with Robert Delaunay #3, 2017 | Acrylic on canvas | 30 x 36 inches

It is undoubtedly happenstance, but the de Young Museum’s upcoming show, The Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, featuring mid-century paintings and photographs celebrating modernism and abstraction, is nicely complemented by Guy Diehl’s exquisitely painted still lifes (in acrylic, astonishingly, not oil). Their virtuosic trompe l’oeil illusionism and elegantly minimalist compositions refute any remaining reflexive art-world prejudice against realism. Then there is the moral seriousness of Diehl’s still lifes — homages to art, books and the life of the mind — which he began doing in 1984, at the beginning of the our long Orwellian slide into Trumpery.

All About Art: A Luminous Pursuit rebuts this national dumbing-down, at least for those who still believe in art as creative expression. Diehl’s exhibition includes eleven works on canvas, all executed in the past two years. All derive from the Dutch realist still-life tradition, filtered through the artist’s studies with Mel Ramos, Robert Bechtle and Richard McLean; as well as his devotion to the work of Gordon Cook and Giorgio Morandi, all of whom elevated the minutely observed and rendered still life into a vehicle for exploration in seeing and thinking. Instead of traditional flowers, fabric, and memento mori skulls, Diehl lovingly paints books and reproductions of art masterpieces, accompanied by vases, bottles, envelopes (including transparent plastic bags), crystal orbs and seashells. All are potential vessels of symbolic meaning in Diehl’s Cornellian “art about art.” Works like Still Life with Watteau Nude, Conversation with Francisco de Zurbaran, Still Life with Robert Delaunay #3, and Still Life with Stuart Davis (inspired by the recent show of that American master at the de Young) are homages to esteemed artist-ancestors, meditations on life and art, and paeans to serious, committed creativity. (Please read John Seed’s interview with the artist.) A series of six hand-painted etchings, featuring one of Modigliani seventy 1913-14 caryatid drawings, employs digital technology to change the background, altering their context and content.

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