The lights in the Acquavella gallery were dimmed to such a soft setting that viewing Damian Loeb’s exquisitely rendered photorealist paintings was a nearly enchanting experience. The thin varnish covering each canvas scintillated ever so slightly, like translucent skin under the moon’s luminescence. If the lights were brighter, however, the effect would have been ruined. Loeb’s depictions of his wife at home in the nude would have lost their delicate intimacy. They would have seemed awkward and perversely expositional, more like witnessing an actor acting than seeing the magic of cinema.
“Verschränkung and the Uncertainty Principle” consisted of eight oil paintings executed between 2009 and 2011. The paintings are based on a series of photographs Loeb took of his wife, Zoya, over the last seven years. She is pictured mostly in the bedroom or bathroom, where nakedness is normal, but also on the telephone and, once, reflected in a mirror. Most frequently Zoya’s gaze does not confront the camera, and the atmosphere of these domestic interiors is largely dark and vaguely impersonal, as if shot in the suite of a motel.
Despite the fine hard features of Zoya’s fit body, Loeb’s imagery is not especially erotic. This may be a result of the quotidian actions Loeb has chosen to represent. However, it also stems from the painter’s noble quest for rendering his subject with exacting perfection, which can seem virtuosic when done well, but strained and persnickety when overdone. In this respect Atmosphere (2010) and Primary (2009), which picture Zoya just after she has woken up, exude a tenderness and easy grace that seem effortless. By contrast The Sound of Music (2010) and Say Hello to the Angels (2010) feel excessively worked and compositionally contrived, more like Loeb directing his wife than capturing her natural grace.
To find one’s muse in one’s spouse is not uncommon. Truly astounding portraits have been made out of such relationships, including Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe and Sally Mann’s pictures of her husband Larry. Loeb’s images are less severely focused on his subject; it is not simply Zoya, but Zoya in the bath or in the bed or on the phone. The environments suggest a narrative, but the narrative seems inconclusive or tangential. As a whole the paintings don’t so much tell a story as they convey a feeling of desire. It is not a sexual desire, however, but the longing to deeply know—even study—the person who inspires you.
The exhibition’s title, a pair of expressions coined by German physicists, conveys the ideas that objects in an arranged system cannot be accurately described independently (Verschränkung) and that the more precisely one object is measured, the more obscure the others become (the Uncertainty Principle). While this may suggest Loeb’s work should be accessed as a whole, it is his attention to detail that is most striking. The moles on Zoya’s back, for example, are painted with such delicacy and precision that Loeb’s affection for his wife and his medium are unmistakable.
Damien Loeb, Atmosphere, 2010.