Artist Searches for Truth in Figural Abstraction

John Thomason, Forum Publishing Group, March 25, 2009


Artist Andrew Stevovich does not set out to produce social commentary in his works. But he can't fault us for reading a lot into them.


His largest-scale and most prominent works – busy canvases depicting bus stops and subway stations – depict throngs of expressionless masses moving as a herd of lemmings through the banality of everyday transit. The sense of urban malaise in the human ant colony of big-city bustle is palpable in these paintings, which bring to mind images from King Vidor's silent film "The Crowd."


But, as with most of his art, Stevovich concentrates more on the formal aspects of the work than conveying a political or moral "message."


"I don't set out to say I want to make a painting about how populated the world and city are," said the Boston-based artist, whose exhibition "The Truth About Lola" is at the Boca Raton Museum of Art through May 11. "It's the composition that interests me. I know deep down in my mind that the world is overpopulated. But I'm not consciously setting out to make that statement."


In fact, while all of the works in "The Truth About Lola" are figural, Stevovich considers himself an abstractionist.


"The formal qualities are very important to me," he said. "Any good painting has to have the fundamental abstract qualities all working, whether it's a totally abstract work or a figurative painting like early Italian painting, which I love."


Stevovich encourages museum goers to dig underneath the figural surface of his works and analyze them on an abstract level. The results are just as striking and beautiful. The masses of people – with their round, Botero-like faces and almond-shaped eyes – allow the artist to explore repetition in tone and color, and you get a strong sense of compositional precision in the way Stevovich introduces vertical and horizontal lines in specific places, partitioning or imprisoning characters from one another. The artist is particular about the abstract necessities, but he's modest in his intentions for the works, revealing little about any overt meaning we're supposed to draw from his painted interactions. He dislikes the word "narrative," though his works conjure a provocative world beyond the frame. The subjects are so mysterious in their blank-slate dispassion that we want to know more about them.


"His paintings engage the audience on many levels," said Wendy Blazier, senior curator at the Boca Musuem. "Because they're so enigmatic, you continue to look – you can't quite figure them out. It's the challenge of show; everyone has to make up their own mind."


Stevovich draws material from life, inserting figures from real experiences and creating several reoccurring characters. The public places he finds most fascinating – subways, nightclubs, circuses, casinos and theaters – are also drawn from life, but ultimately stylized with color and décor that conjure leisure time from a bygone era. At least, that's how I see it – the artist wouldn't necessarily agree.


"I like these double-breasted pinstripe suits and polka-dotted walls," he said. "It's another way of bringing color and visual interest to an area that might otherwise be flat."


Perhaps this sums up what's so intriguing about Stevovich's work: It's abstract art viewed figuratively and vice versa. The audience's need to ascribe narrative meaning is counteracted by the artist's refusal to provide it, probing us to look in new ways at this harmonious marriage of form and content.