For sheer descriptive power, Barry Oretsky’s paintings are hard to beat. More than that, their power of perception is in the service of acute social observation, verging on revelation. His pictures have the force of a paradox. He describes the physical reality of the work with such intensity and blazing clarity that it becomes peculiarly “metaphysical” – uncanny. In other words, what seems like a coolly realized, casually observed, all too familiar scene, is subliminally charged – unexpectedly fraught with odd emotional significance, which, it turns out, was latent in the scene all along. For all the apparent neutrality and detachment of his observation, Oretsky’s pictures communicate a sense of impacted desperation… Indeed, his work can be taken as contemporary emblematic illustrations of Thoreau’s famous observation that the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.
All of Oretsky’s pictures are elegantly composed, as if to counteract the banality of the scene, fraught with tragic potential.
Oretsky is acutely aware of the difference between the world of the work of art and that of the spectator. There is a peculiar desperation to these succinct, intransigent pictures that adds to their sternness. They are masterpieces of their kind.
The human factor haunts all of Oretsky’s images. The poignancy of a scene, which is a commonplace one in modern life, is brought under control by the sharpness of Oretsky’s description – the acute attention he pays to every colouristic and textural detail of brick in the wall and clothing of the figures – and his general sense of the power with which inanimate objects are perceptually given. But the humanness of the scene bursts forth, all the more strongly by reason of the tough-minded realism of the execution.
For all their extroverted realism, Oretsky’s paintings are profoundly introverted. They are major contributions to the vision of the human condition implicit in the best American realism.
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