Gary Pruner is the aesthetic equivalent of a fishmonger, a flower merchant, a green grocer, a medieval scribe, and a Buddhist monk.
He doesn't get wrapped up in the things he portrays with such pyrotechnic effects. Instead he negotiates nano-moment by nano-moment with the moment in which he paints them, texturing each with perceptions, memories, and wit. Mostly wit.
Victor Hugo’s description of Voltaire, applies to Pruner: "Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled." Pruner smiles at our brief sojourn on this earth. At one time and with much slyness he gets us to grasp our mortality (flowers fade, fruit spoils, we turn to dust) while creating a timeless pictorial space that intimates eddies of beauty, cascades of poetry, and the ability to grasp both mortality and immortality in our hands, to surrender to the former, to rejoice in the latter.
Pruner’s unexpected juxtapositions (flowers and fish? fish and cherries? rubber ducks and koi fish?) disarm and disorient the view who, seduced by happy, smiling formalism (lollipop colors, still lifes, with a twist, compositions that resemble kimonos draped on chopsticks), expect luxurious Matissean cornucopias but instead get ascetic Buddhist koans, paradoxical, often nonsensical questions posed to induce meditation.
Though it’s not the most obvious part of Gary Pruner’s work – color is - the element of humor figures mightily here. In MODESTY, a painted homage to a Man Ray photogram, a fluttering bird, obviously agitated, about to take flight, covers the pudenda of a naked woman. In another, its title, BLACK PEPPER, refers to its charred though oddly pristine surface, as if it’s been held over a fire; to the word play between black pepper (that pairs with white salt), a pepper that has been charred black, and a pepper that is black simply because, like his Fauve predecessors, the artist wanted, like The Rolling Stones, to Paint It Black. In another a profile of an actual bird abuts the profile of a fake bird on a stick. In FLUIDITY, sensuous, speckled koi remind one of a simile Garcia Lorca used in one of his poems, in which he wrote that trying to bare hand grab a couple of fish he saw in a stream was like trying to get his hands between a maiden’s thighs. SUNDAE BEST features Prunean staples of a bird, a fish, a flower...and a cherry. KING OF SPRING features a rubber ducky, which deliciously plays on king (his featured plume resembles a crown) as well as a bathtub that stands in for a spring of water. It goes on and on.
I don’t think the humor is there to make us laugh though it does make us smile. No, I think the humor ensures that we don’t mistake the intensity of the color for the calmness of the message, which posits that the things – birds, fruits, vegetables, flowers (especially), and models – that we deem beautiful are ephemeral and fleeting. Pruner’s work commemorates the temporality of natural things. This he does with bravura because he wants to capture and then tweak with brio and vivacity said subjects on their up cycle, at their high-potency moment, of their existence. That explains both the exalted, to put it mildly, color of each piece as well as the compressed pictorial space that these pyrotechnically things inhabit. They are vivisectional equivalents of roses pressed in a book of poetry. Besides, what word does the removal of things superfluous define? To prune. What does this show offer us? The Artist as Pruner.
Though it’s the color that, obviously, gets the most attention, it’s the space that’s his most enduring achievement. It’s a space that is contrived and compressed. The forms are squashed flat on the surface, the better to present their vividness. Pictorial space would imply time and Pruner doesn’t want to imply time because it chisels mortality bit by bit. To his work he imparts what Aristotle calls the quiddity, the essence, of things. He turns simple things into Emerald Cities of Oz and, unlike Dorothy Gale of Kansas and her coterie, we don’t have to follow a yellow brick road. They stand right before us, and we stand before it, agape and mesmerized.
Pruner’s work translates into a trove of pictorial jewels, illuminated like a sublime Book of Hours. But it’s also a reminder that nothing stays the same: not colors, not birds, not flowers. Not the rainbow speckles on his koi, the petals on his flowers, the reflections on his mangos, lemons, acorn squashes, canna lillies, snapdragons, finches, peppers, and the sinuous beauty of that solitary nude.
That’s why he presents to us the full intensity of his subject’s present and prior existences and arranges a perpetual blossoming, one trope of existence superimposed upon the other. His painted vantage point remains one step removed from the subject. Though he paints the thing in front of him in that temporal moment, he’s also painting his memories of similar things in front of him, all of which accrete into these resplendent objects that are alive and being perpetually being re-seeded, re-blossomed. The process goes on and on. In painting the essences of things, Pruner himself is a geminating force: not just painting something as it is but as it was and as it will be. In this respect he is nothing more nothing less than the sky, the sun, the water vapor, the rainbow, and the pot of gold, all rolled into one.