Danforth Museum of Art • Framingham, MA • • Through May 18, 2014

By: Alicia Faxon

The exhibition title Carry On is apt in two senses: it describes a number of images where one figure is carrying another and it also relates to Jon Imber’s determination to keep painting in spite of his disease, ALS. Actually, some of the most poignant images in this exhibition (one of several Imber exhibitions in the region) are his latest portrait heads made in 2013 and 2014.

Imber should be seen as a member of the Boston Expressionist tradition associated with the Danforth, which includes Hyman Bloom, David Aronson, and Jack Levine. Imber’s teacher at Boston University was Philip Guston, an impressive portrait of whom painted by Imber in 1982 dominates the main gallery.

Armillary 1997  Oil on canvas  42 x 48
Jon Imber, Armillary (detail), 1997, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Alpha Gallery, Boston.

Besides portraits there are a number of figural paintings and landscapes. These, like the portraits, are sculptural in presence, such as Cattails of 1989 in which swamp life appears three-dimensional through thick brushstrokes and impasto. Imber also shows a number of religious images, especially Mother and Child representations. Whether in timeless or contemporary garb, these are tender yet forceful and compelling. The mother carries the child in embracing arms, as if passing her strength to the child.

Many of the portraits and figural paintings are given contemporary settings as in Morning Paper, an oil on canvas self-portrait of 1981, or Armillary of 1997. Here, as in Portrait of Harold Imber of 1992, the artist fleshes out the image into a commanding confrontation. In both Imber’s portraits and his religious representations he is unpretentious, showing ordinary people in the vernacular.

Some of the most moving works are small portrait heads made recently, such as Andrew Lund, 2013. Sketchier in execution, these capture brilliantly the character and emotion of the sitter. They testify to the spirit of both artist and subject, unbowed by disease and mortality. (These are the ones I would like to own.)

Jon Imber is a forceful and sensitive painter. He explores setting, character and stance in his portraits, figural works and landscapes. His expressive brushwork affirms the importance of the human experience. The physical portrayal of his subjects overlays a spiritual commitment of caring, interrelationship and support and, in his latest works, the anguish of existence.

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