FIGURES EMERGE from the thick of it. That is what I see in David Stern’s
art—and that is why I think of him as a painter not just for the end of the twentieth century, but for the beginning of the twenty-first. Here is a painter who ventures to draw out the human form after a very antihuman age. His purposes—as anyone can see—are not those of a draughtsman; he doesn’t give us simple lines or sharply etched faces. Modern times haven’t been marked like that. Nor is Stern’s cosmos. Instead, there is a thickness of agitation; the canvas almost becomes an energized relief, moving toward us. Individuals materialize from surfaces that just could not be flat.
Faces emerge in the thick of things. Human form, it seems, must still be seen. It is reasserted by the hands of a German Jew after a century in which the fate of Jews at the hands of Germans—Germans led by a failed painter—became emblematic of the fracturing of common humanity. Are Stern’s figures in-the-thickness an attempt at retrieval? Stern says that he wants “to put the figure back together” in his paintings. He aims to do so, however, with a consciousness of history and art history. His desire: “to bring the figure back to life, the whole figure, but not on naive grounds.” Those last four words are essential. Realist or naturalist resemblances would be beside the point....
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