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James Everett Stanley
at Kinkead Contemporary, Culver City, California
Recommendation by Michael Shaw

James Everett Stanley’s “Let It Burn,” oil paintings and watercolors depicting multiple versions of fire, seems as though it couldn’t be more timely, in light of L.A.’s recent Station fire that devastated Angeles National Forest. But the show coincides with our fire season in general, so the topical nature can be taken as coincidence. And of course the loss that goes along with such destruction is timeless. As a painter, Stanley’s portraiture emits naked vulnerability. Every character, each star of his own narrative, is rendered with a freshness that is contemporary yet very much in line with the masters. The realist quality of each subject, something in the glints in their eyes, is both classical and yet intimate. These fire warriors--not fire fighters, but rather survivors--are very much of the moment. It’s a tremendous portraitist’s gift: there’s no nostalgia, only presence. There’s a twist to these portraits: the subjects aren’t just posing, they’re posing with their ‘makers,’ whether as a backdrop, a remnant, or a reflection in their eyes. “I’m here for the duration” shows a man in a green army jacket, his skin gleaming with sweat, holding up a painting of a fire to his chest. The watercolor portraits pair camo-clad men (there’s one woman in the group) with circular images of fires above their heads, thought bubbles of destruction and loss. That said, the work isn’t nearly as mired in melancholy as it might sound. Despite the themes of destruction, a romantic sensibility pervades--the heroes are aflame, if you will, with life.

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