Magnificent Seven 

The R. Duane Reed Galley places a wakeup call to somnolent summertime St. Louis with a new exhibit

Ever feel the need, artistically, to get back to basics?

This summer, we saw the initial ebullience over van Gogh and his cohorts fizzle and give way to the tepid thrills of Fiber Focus, and degenerate (yes, that word is used advisedly) People Project figures roam the region. The saucy, cheap pastiche of '60s pop prints at the St. Louis Art Museum is looking really good by now. But wouldn't it be nice, right about this time, to see some juicy new paintings? Yes, paintings. Oil paintings and enamel paintings, on canvas and panel -- just like in the old days.

The R. Duane Reed Gallery comes to the rescue. The gallery asked Brian D. Smith to organize a painting show, and he's come up with a doozy: a collection of local painters, all of whom flirt with history while developing their own distinct, contemporary styles. Seven St. Louis Painters is the antidote for the drowsy summer art scene.

The show features a handful of local talents: Reynold Behrend, Deb Touhill, Daniel Raedeke, Philip Slein, Lon Brauer, Theresa Liess-Hassinger, Marcus Greene. They take very different approaches to painting, but their savvy connects them. Brauer's method is heavy on drawing, with a seductive effect. Touhill and Raedeke reference popular culture in wildly divergent ways. Behrend's abstract topographies make your hair stand on end, whereas Liess-Hassinger and Greene conjure up extremes of dreamy, crafted abstraction. And a bonus: Alongside this exhibition, the gallery is featuring a solo show of Smith's own paintings.

Seven St. Louis Painters reminds us why, in the not-so-distant past, it seemed painting could change the world. It also reminds us that, despite repeated reports of its demise since the era of abstract expressionism, painting is not dead. These artists develop contemporary ideas with an eye to history, showing the abiding value of the painted expression in this age of new-media distractions and dumbed-down community art.

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