Stephen Appleby-Barr, Toronto 1981
Johiem Ismail, Correspondent, 2020
On meeting Johiem, Appleby-Barr immediately knew that he wanted to paint him. The result is a truly arresting portrait. His upright posture and piercing gaze imply an intense conversation, with Johiem waiting for a response, creating a strong sense of a dialogue with the viewer.
His pose, with his hand aloft and crossed fingers, coupled with the complex cut glass on the table, recalls Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. It is a rather irreverent reference, with Christ’s gesture of benediction and the orb signifying the Earth replaced with a cigarette and a glass of whisky. This playful allusion is characteristic of Appleby-Barr’s engagement with the old masters. The dark setting, illuminated with a strong and warm light, adds to the sitter’s saintly air, the light behind him even forming a sort of halo. His posture, to the modern eye, also has an affinity with camp culture, a recurring element in Appleby-Barr’s work.
The table, with its writing materials, bottles of ink, shells, pearls and bells, is typical of Appleby-Barr’s allusive, and elusive, painterly universe. Recalling the meaningful, symbolic objects in old master paintings, here the items resist definitive interpretation, but are depicted in tender and meticulous detail by the artist’s masterly use of oil paint.
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