12th September 2019, contemporary figurative artist, Mark Demsteader, will be exhibiting a collection of 15 new paintings and drawings at Box Galleries, Chelsea. In the second solo exhibition of his career, Demsteader presents MUSE, a contemporary reimagination of the Victorian depiction of female beauty. It is well known that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a notorious group of 19th century painters, adopted the term, muse, to describe their female sources of inspiration. They were worshipped by the artists for their charm and their influence on the canon of work produced at this time was profound.
Demsteader builds on the tradition of such romanticised figurative works. Although in structure and beauty the works are easily likened to that of the Brotherhood, Demsteader’s work is a contemporary update; a stripping away of the floral, idealised details of its inspiration and focusing on the form of his subjects. Red Earth, for example, is a vibrant, seductive piece that echoes the shape and warmth of Frederick Leighton’s Flaming June, set on a firey background of smouldering umbers, deep mahogany and black. His Study 8 has the resigned, quiet confidence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Day Dream, and Adrift captures the essence of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, interpreting the haunting Hamlet
scene instead in some darker landscape; the liminality of the River Styx to Millais’ somewhat more cheerful Surrey river.
Perhaps one may refer to Demsteaders’ work as Post-Millais. The works are retellings of the Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces, yet shrouded in shadow, contorted and obscured. Demsteader adds a new dimension to the tradition of figurative female depiction in the Western art scene without sacrificing the allure, beauty or strength of his sitters.