Gideon Bok: Recent Paintings
On view through March 17
Opening reception Feb. 24, 5-7 p.m.
Halsey Institute of Contemporary ArtSimons Center for the Arts54 St. Philip St.953-5680

This month the Halsey Institute presents a solo exhibition by New York artist Gideon Bok, who uses his studios and their contents as his source material, working at the same time of day, each day, on each project to capture the same quality of light. In this regard, he might be compared to a plein air artist who returns to the same nook on a daily basis.

While Bok’s studios are usually simple spaces with a couch or a motorbike thrown in, other artists create a specific environment wherever they go. The cubbies at Redux Contemporary Art Center are a good example of this, where silversmith Kaminer Haislip’s floor space is littered with the colorful outlines of square templates; other rented studios there have walls covered, mosaic-like, with sketches, prints, or paintings. On Folly Beach, Sherry Browne’s Studio Open is an extension of her own persona: warm, informal, and occasionally cluttered with petal-like scraps from her “paper cut” art.

Some local artists’ studios are mobile. Karen Hewitt Hagan paints aboard her boat, the MV Plein Air, constantly traveling and visiting villages on the East Coast as she works. While the landlocked Bok doesn’t have that option, he does use different studios and captures the identifying characters of each one. What’s more, he paints each one from various angles to show the minutiae of his workspace, using long shots and medium views like a filmmaker.

And there are other cinematographic similarities. Bok doesn’t just depict his surroundings; he also tries to capture ephemeral elements, people, and objects that don’t stay put. In an oil-on-linen version of the old music video cliché, some figures stay still while others move around them, leaving subtle traces of their existence. Visitors become part of the art, incorporated as wraithlike forms standing in doorways or sitting on couches. They’re often legless or transparent, just passing through our world. In the next painting they’re gone, replaced by ectoplasmic auras or empty space. If you can recall the last time you were so drunk you were immobilized, with half the room spinning around you in a blur, then you know what it’s like to be in a Bok painting.

“Painters often try to render a frozen moment, almost like a photo,” says Halsey director Mark Sloan. “Bok’s evolve over time as certain things alter in the paintings. He’s set himself an interesting challenge: to slow down a moment and explore time through the medium of paint.” Bok’s murky realism is equal to the challenge, helped by a meticulous attention to light and obscure detail, all the way down to the street signs glimpsed through his studio windows.

The objects that are solid give us glimpses of the artist’s life, with everyday paraphernalia helping viewers to relate to the art: guitars, TVs and stereos, dirty plates, and empty wine bottles. “He’s painting what he’s surrounded by every day,” says Sloan. “It causes you to look at your own environment in a fresh way, and consider how your mind processes permanent and transient things.”

The Brooklyn-based Bok’s a popular guy, a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient whose work is featured in several major galleries, including Plane Space in New York and the Alpha Gallery in Boston. So it’s appropriate that he’s been asked to serve as juror for this year’s Young Contemporaries Art Exhibition at the Halsey. The idea’s worked before — Graham Nickson, dean of the New York Studio School, had a solo exhibition at the gallery back in 2001 and served as juror the same year. And as Bok is accustomed to considering other people’s perspectives when he paints, it’s not a giant leap to put him in a judge’s role.

Recent Paintings precedes the Young Contemporaries show, with Bok’s large-scale work giving normality an extraordinary edge, portraying the ethereal in the everyday. As such, it offers a different perspective on life that owes as much to the artist’s location as to his vision.