All artists are borne along by their work, as much subject to their art as masters of it. But some artists are driven to paint. You can see it in how they impel pigment onto the canvas. You can see it in their fixation on specific images. And you can see it in their relentless engagement with their art over time.
        Simon Gendler is a driven artist, but in the most benign way possible. For the past three decades he has created a body of work distinctive in its passion and its consistency. Time is almost irrelevant in charting the course of his art. Older and new works blend together, themes recur, and times past are evergreen in his ardent imagination. There is a sense of a persistent psychic reality that is equally remembered, observed, and felt.
        In Gendler's paintings certain subjects and ways of seeing keep returning, at times in altered form. The portrait is a main mode, but it takes on many guises, and morphs into a range of other genres. There are a series of affecting self-portraits and images of friends and family. These paintings, along with a series of nudes, seem the result of close looking, of trying to capture the distinctive visage and psychological state of the subject. The nudes, a particularly strong group of work, are often female figures who directly confront the viewer.
        There are paintings of men and women together, couples who appear to be enacting their relationship for the painter like a well rehearsed bit of vaudeville. A number of these images resemble pietas with the woman bearing up the supine man. Spiritual feeling keep appearing in the form of angels, distinguished from ordinary people only by their wings. Churches are often in the distance, persistent memories from the artist’s childhood in Siberia. Other remnants of the past appear as the skeletal remains of a herring on a plate, the ritually slaughtered chicken, the barren landscape.
        Gendler is drawn to people in all their multifarious states - in desire, in delusion, in discomfort - always attracted to their essential humanity. This inclusiveness embraces the vagrant, a kind of holy fool, the drinker far gone on vodka, the naked woman with the sexy body and the funny, blunt face, the couple grown grotesque and still in love. The painter is devoted to depicting the person alone: the lady who lunches, the waiter who serves her, and the crazy person who is a kind of model for the artist, heedlessly independent and creating his own reality as he encounters life every day.

John Mendelsohn
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