Sunday, September 25, 2011

Defending the Muse: Michael Stein and Paul Georges

Paul Georges
The Studio
120”x79 1/2” oil on canvas 1965
The Whitney Museum Collection, New York
Courtesy Paul Georges Estate

Michael Stein's new novel "The Rape of the Muse" ponders the worth of art and the place of beauty in our contemporary society. Stein's re-imagining of painter Paul Georges' trial for libel in 1980 updates the events to the 21st century and fleshes out the characters with a post September 11th ennui. When Georges' trial took place in 1980, the Neo-Expressionist boom in art was just beginning. Emotional, brightly colored paintings using the figure as a theme filled galleries in New York and Europe. In that time Paul Georges’ artwork was included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. But still, Georges was an outsider looking in on an art world that often considered narrative painting to be atavistic at best - reactionary at worst.

Paul Georges
The Mugging of the Muse
80”x103” oil on canvas 1972-1974
Courtesy Paul Georges Estate

Michael Stein adeptly weaves elements of Paul Georges' life into the story of his fictive painter - Harris Montrose. Montrose cares deeply about the gift and responsibility of art. This humble esteem for the muse that stokes his creative fire leads to a showdown with an artistic colleague over a limned image. Are we all fair game for artistic interpretation? Is anything really private anymore? Is the language of painting relevant to our time?

Stein brings in a young artist, already marked by the reigning critics as one to watch, who is psychologically blocked from the creative process. This young artist, Rand Taber, becomes Montrose's studio assistant. As if in a scene from Martin Scorsese's segment in the film "New York Stories", Taber learns life lessons from his mentor Montrose. In this sense, Michael Stein seems to hold up the elder painter as a pugnacious model of validity. Harris Montrose paints like his life depends on it. The muse needs to be honored. And if anyone gets in the way they should heed the warnings. The muse shall be avenged.

It is refreshing to read a work in which art is considered deeply as much more than a commodity or a means to privilege. Michael Stein’s “The Rape of the Muse” is gutsy – almost an aesthetic bar fight of a novel. It is heartening to feel Paul Georges’ passion seep into Stein’s writing. Art is not just style. At its best, art considers life and then makes something new. Michael Stein’s “The Rape of the Muse” digs into the life and work of the forceful painter Paul Georges and conjures up a story for our moment.

Highly recommended.

Michael Stein

More at:
Life and Art of Paul Georges
Michael Stein's Website

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