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Alfred Leslie, The Return Of Muscular Realism (The Figure Redivivus)

Alfred Leslie in his studio with one of his portraits

A daringly creative risktaker, Leslie’s displays of his strong, muscular body, in your face and standing its ground even as it seems about to break through the picture plane into your space, are a rejoinder to increasingly anemic, vacuous abstract painting, so-called “zombie formalism” the quintessential example.  It is the spiritless dead-end of spiritual abstraction, non-objective art reified into banality.  Leslie’s break away from abstraction and into the figure was a prescient recognition that pure art had become decadent.  It was a brave critical act:  he realized that the avant-garde revolution had run out of expressive steam with abstract expressionism.  It was the last hurrah of art inspired by the unconscious, to recall Redon’s idea that the artist had to wait for it to inspire him.  It inspired him to dream, as Redon’s portfolio of lithographs “In the Dream,” 1879, made clear.  “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” Goya’s Capricho 43, 1797-1798 made clear, and Redon dreamt of monsters.  Leslie’s figures are not monsters, not dreams, not sick fantasies, but real—insistently real.  The self in his portraits is not a monster, not irrational, but self-possessed, rational, holds its own in defiance of the dismissive artworld.

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