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Lois Lambert Gallery opens an exhibition of works by Serena Potter
"Hold up", Oil on canvas, 35" x 30".

by Peter Frank

SANTA MONICA, CA.- Serena Potter’s paintings and drawings draw not only technically and stylistically, but spiritually and subjectively, on several models. Dutch genre painting of the 17th century – and all the schools of genre it spawned – determine the historical context in which Potter conceives and orders her images. She answers to the bourgeois need to have a picture tell a story – ideally about the beholders or people very much like them – but does not necessarily honor the group narcissism that powers that need and (thus) infuses so much genre painting.

In fact, unafraid to introduce odd, unlikely circumstances into her pictures and often relying on allegorical and psychological depictions in place of the natural, Potter reveals that she is exploiting the genre tradition to more subversive ends.

In her adherence to the narrative, Potter employs a confident realistic manner, one readily capable of virtuosity --- she is a master of light and texture – but determined to put such virtuosity at the service of the pictorial task at hand. In this regard she effectively (and knowingly) emulates the conditions of modern photography, artistic and otherwise. Indeed, her pictures expose the casual absurdities of the cellphone snapshot, acknowledging the prevalence of selfies and other banal instances (especially in public fora such as Instagram) but filling the otherwise vacant modality with theatrical, often almost operatic meaning.

Potter’s cause as an artist is highly proactive, rejecting the post-modern passivity contemporary life encourages. She does not espouse political or social positions so much as inhabit them: her feminist sympathies, for instance, manifest in the rich complexity with which she approaches self-depiction. She shows herself a failure, a klutz, a deft or simply lucky improvisor, a hero to her kids, an anxious intimate to her husband, someone who takes the wrong tools to a task and must, heroically, make do.

In other words, Potter not only describes herself, but believes herself, an everywoman, tragic and comic in her ordinariness.There is a touch of the sitcom to the oft-absurd practical jokes she plays on herself, but in the static media of painting and drawing the goofy becomes the momentous, and the unlikely becomes exemplary.

In this regard, of course, Potter is nothing if not modern – even modernist (or, if you would, neo-modernist). She casts herself as a cinematic anti- or non-heroine, a kind of female Harold Lloyd who gets confronted by latter-day realities that puncture any sense of self-aggrandizement and leave about as little room for self-pity. Her world is not grand like Georgia O’Keeffe’s, but cozy, banal, and a bit poignant like Edward Hopper’s, and she notes the quotidian inanity all around her even as she tries to navigate its constantly shifting goalposts. She’s Pieter de Hooch as a stand-up comedienne.

Yes, Serena Potter’s pictures, hyperrealistic, intuitive, and satisfyingly unsatisfied, are very much of our time and place. But they are also 19th century in their reliance on at least the possibility of moral lesson, and 20th century in their uneasy comfort, their sense that everything present could disappear in the wake of war, weather, or financial calamity.

(Actually, that makes them up to date, albeit with the threats in a different order.) It’s an anxious realism Potter limns, and such nervousness only amplifies the persuasiveness of her art. She is a life coach in painter’s smock.

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