Dennis Aufiery’s oil painting SAND ALLEY, pulls off the considerable feat of being as much about his deft gestural handling of the medium as its defiantly mundane subject matter, which contains a pickup truck, a motorboat and an oil drum.
GARY SAYS: What do we expect from a portrait? A true likeness? A bit of psychological insight? Both can make a portrait work, of course. But there are all sorts of portraits. In this enigmatic painting, the likeness is no doubt true-to-life, but the figure may also serve as a vehicle for the mood of the artist, rather more than the sitter, around the time he was working on the picture.
Aufiery, a Jupiter artist, probably set out to create a bit of mystery. Why is the woman wearing clothes on what is presumably a beach? The picture is called Ocean Woman, after all. And why does the figure have such an anguished, out-of-it expression on what seems to be a beautiful day, with deep blue sky and fluffy clouds tinged with pink?
Those questions aside, the painting stands-out for its expressive use of thickish paint, which, as much as the subject, is what this forceful picture is all about The work is part of a group show devoted to the figure that features painting, photography and collage by nine national artists.
Jupiter painter and art teacher Dennis Aufiery can offer his students two tips on life: Attend lectures, and be nice to guys living down the street who own cool jeeps with Maine license plates.
While a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the '60s, Aufiery showed up for a lecture by Fairfield Porter, a stubborn figurative painter at a time when abstract and experimental art still ruled.
'The entire audience was me, a cleaning lady, and some guy asleep," Aufiery recalled. "So Porter said, 'Since nobody's here, why don't we just talk?' He inspired me to get the varnish off figurative painting - the brown varnish of the old masters - and put it in contemporary terms."
But Aufiery was still working at the task after graduation when he noticed that a neighbor in Philadelphia had a nifty Maine jeep. Curious, he struck up a conversation. The neighbor turned out to be the respected realist painter Neil Welliver, who happened to be doing a teaching stint at the University of Pennsylvania. "He wanted to see some of my paintings, and then he urged me to apply to Penn," Aufiery said. Not only did he get into a Penn graduate school loaded with talented teachers, but Welliver eventually arranged a scholarship for him.
And Aufiery got the "brown varnish" off his paintings. Evidence can be found in an exhibition of his figurative paintings and drawings at the Court House Cultural Center in Stuart through May 13. (He is also represented by Donna Tribby Fine Art in West Palm Beach's CityPlace.)
Whether portraits of nude models, or narrative paintings of crowded beaches in Miami and Cuba, Aufiery's images have an air of mystery about them. The viewer asks "Why?"
Why is a nude woman holding a shovel, of all things, as if it were a vacuum cleaner? Why are two guys at a beach looking at a woman showering off the sand after a swim, while a dude in a fancy pink pimp suit stands nearby, gazing elsewhere? Or is he just an innocent Cubano who happens to wear suits to the beach?
"I like open narrative," Aufiery said. "I like the idea of getting lost in a picture. I'd like viewers to wonder what is really happening, and then maybe find themselves feeling guilty of something."
Artist Bruce Helander, the program planner at West Palm Beach's ArmoryArt Center, where Aufiery also teaches, says the painter creates "a wonderful visual poetry" in his beach people.
'They look like they're about to discuss an important topic, or whisper a secret about somebody walking by. Dennis is able to put this sense of uncertainty and intrigue into his bag of visual tricks."
Aufiery, 58, moved to Jupiter in 1999 with his wife Carol and began teaching at the Armory almost right away. His varied career has included designing sets for his brother's theater company, and creating murals for the noted pioneer of postmodernist architecture, RobertVenturi. He worked for more than two years with The Repertory Company in downtown Philadelphia. "We did Mamet, Stoppard, the good stuff," he recalled. "I become completely absorbed in set design, and got fairly well known for it."
Far from being a detour, set design helped his paintings. "In set design, you realize that painting can be theater, and can still be presented in such a way as to be convincing. You have to present images in a more conceptual way." A chance encounter led to his being hired by Venturi. He became "color consultant" for a large show of 20th-century design the architect organized for New York's Whitney Museum of Art. "He'd say to me, "Make that wall look like sound," Aufiery laughed. "I'd say, 'toxic green.' He'd say, 'Perfect.' It was all pretty funny."
Later, Aufiery did a number of mural projects for Venturi, including a major work for the architect's TreeHouse at the Philadelphia Zoo. The artist lived for a time at the edge of the Florida Everglades in order to sketch the flora and fauna. All in all, the Venturi collaboration was a success. "When you get to work with people with strong opinions, you realize you have to have strong opinions, too, and defend them."
Aufiery thinks drawing is an essential part of artmaking. "It's the beginning of being able to conceptualize," he said. Several pencil drawings in the Stuart show depict submerged vintage cars, with fish floating by. They mix fantasy and realism in the service of metaphor. The idea popped to mind after a stint painting in Cuba, where he photographed the ancient automobiles still chugging the streets. "I visited the Baltimore Aquarium, and then I suddenly realized my time in Cuba was like visiting the lost continent of Atlantis. Everything down there is on hold, submerged, under water." In other words, mysterious.
In his suite of en plein air paintings entitled "Wilds of New Jersey," Philadelphia artist Dennis Aufiery addresses subject matter familiar to people of this region in a gesture of dense colors and bold brushwork. In a previous show at the Raab Gallery, Aufiery presented images of Cuba that celebrated the island's geography and culture.
In the New Jersey paintings, Aufiery emphasizes the lush landscape of this state's coastal areas. Aufiery's imagery embraces three distinct areas of South Jersey, the beaches, the flat and marshy back bay expanses and the mainland pine barrens. He operates in a small square or rectangular format, a size easily accommodated on an outdoor or French style easel. All of the works were begun on-site outdoors with some finishing decisions accomplished in studio.
Aufiery states that he is not so intrigued by the specific geography as he is by the light and the outdoors and capturing the sensations of each visually. The artist is native to this area, though, and grew up vacationing at the Jersey shore. He is aware of the emotional charge that the landscapes of that region hold for many Philadelphians.
In these small scale works, Aufiery indulges the viewer with dunes, wind swept marshes and dense forest thickets accompanied by the requisite sky and cloud dramas. He is not so concerned about the splash of the surf or the broad flat vistas of the bay, although he flirts with typical seascape romanticism in a "Sunrise" on the water composition and a panorama of the back bay landscape replete with "Egrets." Rather, the artist concentrates his painterly efforts on details about this region, i.e., the way vegetation grows up and along the dunes or the texture and density of the thickets beneath the pines.
While he observes in his artist's statement that the geographical location is not what is essential about these paintings, the resulting vivid visual characterization of this region of New Jersey belies his word. We are not necessarily summoned to the sensation of outside in Aufiery's coastal essay. We are absorbed, however, by the expressive portrayal of a landscape region that perhaps deserves to be looked at more closely by artists.
Dennis Aufiery is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He has exhibited his work extensively in solo and group exhibitions since 1980. His work was selected for inclusion in the Spring 1999 edition of New American Paintings published by the Open Studio Press.
Dennis Aufiery, exhibiting a painting series relating to10 a recent eight-week trip to Cuba, is basically a storyteller in his show at Salon des Amis. For these are not mere travel scenes, but mostly represent the daily crisis of experience for Cuban men, women and children on the brink of fleeing their land in homemade boats. Aufiery headed for Cuba as though he were taking a lonely trek to find a way back to his own center, rather than aiming to collect material evidence of his having been there. Thus his interactive group of figures on the beach painted in hot, intense, often garish colors, and sometimes including anxious Cubans together with American tourists, is one of the strongest and most particular features of his work. Aufiery is quite able to capture what's quick and aware and also specific about human interaction. His is a functional style that concentrates on getting it right. There's a certain innocence of approach, inasmuch as he's able to follow his feelings and put down with the brush what he sees, sometimes explicitly, and has apparently chosen to be untouched by the urgency of certain issues that confront painters of the human figure today. Consequently we respond to the flash of truth he gets rather to than to any formal beauty or profundity. The poignancy of this show is that besides the feel of a story being told, something is being expressed that's genuine.
Dennis Aufiery's exhibition at Venue displays the two aspects of his current work in a way that makes him seem like two artists. In this group of paintings, Aufiery explores erotically charged situations set in tropical locales. These paintings also derive from photographs, but the snapshot aesthetic isn't so obvious because the raw images are transformed more completely.
The series begins with pictures of raunchy rowdyism painted in lurid, expressionist colors. As the paintings move forward in time, they become less comic and more sexually tense. The climax of this progression is a fishing-boat scene called 'Gulf Stream Magic' that places the viewer right in the center of the action.
Aufiery's surreal imagination injects the figure of the late Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo into a resort scene and puts Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez on another fishing boat. Hemingway and Marquez are two characters in a bizarre rescue scene that recalls John Singleton Copley's famous painting Watson and the Shark - except that in this case "Watson" is a statuesque blonde in a rubber raft.
Dennis Aufiery is two artists in one, both prodigiously talented. He's as angry and compelling a social satirist as any in our tradition; he's also a splendid and expressive colorist whose landscapes are a song.
It would probably make more sense to deal with his conflicting concerns (art as statement/art as pleasure) separately, but, I doubt that these concerns are separate in the artist's skull. Everything in the show "White Man's View" is boldly conceived, expressively colored and jumping with life. It's just that Aufiery is sometimes angry and sometimes joyous.
"Ghost of Redlining," "New Middle Class," "Fear and Ignorance," "White Man's View" and "City Tableau" are angry unfunny works driven by a fierce, jibing desperation. When things are this bad, a laugh is as good as a clenched fist. In City Tableau, "we even get a capering skeleton- the real Mister Bones perhaps, but more likely Mister Totentanz here to remind us just how amazingly Iong-lived an artistic concept can be."
From the world of Medieval woodcuts to the bombed-out neighborhoods ("Ghosts of Redlining") of 1990 Philadelphia, he still stands for dissolution and decay, chaos and the suspension of normal rules in short, Bad News. Aufiery's work might be lugubrious if he weren't such a ferociously talented fellow. Life-force literally ripples through his work. No amount of neglect or decay will still this artist's drive to create. To get his vision down on canvas where it may perhaps survive him. The landscapes aren't as desperate as the social scenes-neither are they as much fun – but there are some moments of transcendent beauty. "Monte Verde", Costa Rica, "Italian Landscape" and "Cota Rica" are just lovely works of art. You need not go any deeper than that. But if you want to go deeper, there's "Tryst" and "Limon," beautiful exampIes of lyricism in art. There's also, "Italian Pheasant," as powerfully expressive and colorful a study of a dead bird as any you're likely to encounter.
Unlike the hunter, who can only stalk and kill and eat the pheasant, the artist can effectively create beauty and a new - albeit non organic - life from the dead. It always amazes me that we take our artists and the fact that men have walked the moon so much for granted. Dennis Aufiery is certainly an artist 'worthy of our support. He may in his own way be something of an angry prophet. He certainly is a talented man, if nothing but "Treehouse Mural Study," an Expressionist phantasmagoria of animal and vegetative life; were on display, it would be worth a trip to see. But with another 50 odd siblings accompanying it....
Paradise Revisited, says the catalogue list posted on the wall; Paradise Rediscovered, says the postcard announcing a show of three painters at the Gershman Y Gallery. The return journey to paradise - however it's named - rarely appears untroubled in the work of these artists, who each pause en route at the realist and surrealist camps.
Nature, as a potent energetic force, is untamed in Dennis Aufiery's tropical landscapes. Mangrove – a straightforward representation in thick impasto, emphasizes the seaward thrust of the powerful roots. This action is both countered and echoed by the flight of a single white bird in a limpid sky. The small Pregnant contains minute distant humans on the beach under a lowering grey-violet sky.
In The Breeze, whose horizontal format emphasizes the sweep of the sunset sky, hot pastels reflected in shallow swampy pools provide the backdrop to an encounter between two brown-skinned people.
Mahogany, perhaps the most polished of Aufiery's works in this group, analyzes light filtering through a high jungle canopy as it falls on successive screens of tropical vegetation.
The sketchily executed The Everglades is perhaps a study for an allegory of conspicuous consumption in the animal world: a gator snaps up a huge writhing snake; a heron gulps a lizard; and a wild cat· stalks something through the trees. Swamp life is harsh - hardly a Peaceable Kingdom.
After some rather lean years, artist Dennis Aufiery was hungry for some recognition. So, for the first time, he submitted a painting to the annual Cheltenham Art Center exhibition and won the grand prize for his "Still Life." On the rutted road to fame and fortune, winning the Cheltenham Art Center show can be an important milestone for a Philadelphia artist. It is the only juried show in the region open to young and to established artists as well. The eminent New York realist painter Philip Pearlstein chose 198 of the 500 paintings entered, and art dealer Max Hutchinson picked 60 sculptures from 110. These are all on display at the Civic Center Museum until Nov. 16.
To Aufiery, 34, who works out of a Powelton VilIage garage (and lives in a loft upstairs), winning has meant commissions for two paintings and proposals for two others. And "my prices have gone up lately," he said. To art consultant Judith Lepow of Galman-Lepow Associates in Cherry Hill, who has recommended Aufiery's works to Clients, it means that he is really "on his way." He is ready now.
When he received a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976, Aufiery was confused and wanted to be alone. He did not want to show his works. For a year and a half he lived in another West Philadelphia loft, without running water, on about $20 a week, and painted. "I ate a lot of rice," he recalled. It was a life rather close to the bone, but Aufiery wanted to paint, not to have a job 'and paint on the side as many of his colleagues did.
It was a gamble. "It was tough; I liked it," he said, taking a drag on his cigarette. Aufiery, who has an open face, clear blue eyes and an intense manner, was wearing dark blue cords and a blue and green plaid shirt. Leaning against the walls of his studio were paintings in various stages of completion. Classical music could be heard from upstairs. It was a warm, bright space for work.
Aufiery, who was born in South Philadelphia and reared in Media, decided "privately" to become an artist at 16; although, he did not quite know how to become one. His parents would have chosen something more financially secure for him. They lived through the Depression, he explained.
At Penn, students were told that "this is a place to experiment," to paint in different styles, to find a medium of expression. Aufiery tried them all, to better understand the work and himself ("I had to go through these miniperiods," he said).
Finding his own style and a meaningful way to express himself was often' frightening, Aufiery concedes. "You learn what you think you can learn," he said. "Then you have to jump off and say, 'I'm all alone.' Artists get afraid; they want to have companionship, And that's when things get trendy. So that ls why I would rather read philosophy, or watch TV, or the Phillies than be with other artists."
An artist's job, Aufiery believes, "is to understand his times," to know what has gone before, to understand the works of earlier artists, but then, finally to explore. Work that is derivative, he thinks, is dead. "There's no energy if there's no exploration," he maintains.
Aufiery's style was abstract, but he was still searching for his personal vision when in 1976 it literally tumbled at his feet. It sounds silly, but here is how it happened: "In 1976 I was working on a big, brushy abstract painting - muscle painting - moving my body around, when a 5-year old boy, playing in the studio, knocked some fruit and vegetables off a stool onto the floor. The tomato burst and, looking at it, I was momentarily stunned. "I thought, 'That tomato means more to me than what I'm doing.' And I took the painting I was working on, threw it away and began working on the tomato. I felt a little ridiculous," he conceded, "but I wanted to do it."
Vegetables and fruits have become part of Aufiery's unique vocabulary, practically his trademark, and even he does not really know why. His prize-winning -painting at the Civic Center is a splashy canvas scattered with foodstuffs, a poinsettia, a baseball cap, a football and a trumpet.
Part of it is a reaction to the sterile, impersonal boxes and grids of the '60s. "It's over; It's dead," he says. "Art should deal with what's happening to you; we should get close to things again."
Aufiery is concerned with the real and the familiar, the close-at-hand, the comprehensible. "Me painting vegetables is like not running away from my life," he said. He could go to New York but expects that if recognition comes, it will find him here "Where my life is." "If I went to New York," he said, "and did what everyone else does, I'd be very unhappy, finally."
Aufiery paints about four or five days a week. And sometimes, to pay the bills, he does construction work for his father, an engineer, who does building restorations. But even when he takes jobs, he paints, too.
Hustling is another part of the artist's life: going around to the galleries, showing works, meeting other artists with contacts. Aufiery has done his share of it over the years. "But," he said, puzzled, "sometimes it seems that I hustle and nothing happens, or I stand still and everything happens."
Making it is sometimes hard to comprehend.
"You have to be really lucky and determined," Aufiery said. "You know, when I went to art school, I thought I was the least talented person there."