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A word about melodrama,which is a word about much of the art in this exhibition. Think back to another time, before the term had been sullied by mawkish contemporary associations. Coined by Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 18th Century, melodrama initially signified the union of music and pantomime. Originally, these mute melodic dramas let gestures tell unutterably intense tales. Forget soap operas, and recall instead the pale figure of Watteau's clown Gilles, standing in silent counterpoint to the band around him.
Consider as a contemporary case in point the art of Mark Stock. In one large, autumnal image we see the recumbent figure of a blond youth propped against a tree; like Gilles, he is dressed in white. His posture looks uncomfortably like a snapped puppet, and his glazed eyes gaze upwards. Other details register rapidly. Alongside him, next to a cast-off shoe, the thick Rope that gives the painting its (homage to Hitchcock) title. A note flutters on the tree trunk, confirming the impression that we see the moment the Self chooses oblivion. If this were life we might ask if he's still breathing, But this canvas does not portray life; rather it represents an imitation of life. Look carefully at the landscape in Rope and discover that the background is actually a creased theatrical backdrop, a painted curtain rippling beneath an amber spotlight. And so we realize belatedly that we see an actor, and thus an act, but not one's final act.
The device facilitates the willing suspension of disbelief; for such dramatic scenes aren't extraordinary onstage. By casting the suicide as a play, the painter tempers sentiment with irony. The resulting detachment provides some necessary emotional distance on high voltage subjects like rejection and self-destruction. Stock's theatrical settings allow us to contemplate what would otherwise make us flinch, Because it is staged as a drama, the mind entertains the forbidden, saving the allure of making a dramatic exit. Detachment circumvents our reluctance at being swept away by emotions like love, loss and the impulse toward suicide. The painter has written: "My paintings are dramatic only to emphasize the theatricalitv of life itself. I want to call people away from admiring life away from mundane life - and to emphasize its dramatics."
Like the protagonists they depict, Stock's silken oil paintings are attentive to surfaces and appearances: the special feel of satin, the shine of a properly polished plate. The 36-year-old artist served as his own model for the Butler series, but the roles and timeless costumes of the butler and musician might come frorn anv era, The monochromatic attire suggcsts the noble old days of black and white movies, though of course servants' formal garb isn't subject to the whims of fashion. As the painter has observed, ''A butler is a butler is a butler-but this is not the case in my series because 'he is in love'."
this stereotypical model of decorum in his black tie best is caught in an indecorous moment. The character 's attire and anticipated professional aplomb serve as foils for the charged, revealing poses that Stock depicts. After all, the butler is not expected to drive his head against the wall like that, is he? The ordinarily in- visible man becomes suddenly, painfrlly visible; and so do his feelings. The butter's formal garb reminds us of the radical breech of decorum, a visible register of his emotional turmoil.
Stock's sentimental, ironic stance resembles that of his favorite screen star, Charlie Chaplin, In these paintings of fallen socialites, crestfallen mu-sicians and brooding servants, irony demarcates the blurred border between self-obsession and the love of another, between posturing and passion,
Often in Stock's studio, the soundtrack from Blue Velvet accompanies the artist's labors. At the outset, these labors are largely directorial. Stock poses friends (some of whom are professional actors) in the roles that his works portray and takes photographs that serve to generate subsequent pastels and oils. The settings may be natural....for instance, The Lover, which was posed in the woods-or imagined later, as in the wings of the stage that appear in Letter from a Dancer, Stock's decidedly cinematic settings, lighting and props are often coupled with references to high culture. Dead Social Lion evokes two heroes from the pantheon of art history:
Manet's Dead Toreador and the 17th Century The Dead Soldier that was once attributed to Velazquez. Stock's The Lover combines aspects of John's Millais' Death of Ophelia and Henry Wallis' representation of the fallen Chatterton with his fatal vial of poison. Stock's eloquent description of his own work might equally well characterize these antecedents:
"My paintings deal with the solitary person, the solitary person is within all of us - we are alonc - (common theme) - a majestic sadness making loneliness not a cardboard house but a temple."
- by Gerard Haggerty

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