There’s a humorous tease in the title of Monika Molnar-Metzenthin’s “Nouvelle Nudes” exhibit at Restaurant Roy this September. These women that Ms. Molnar-Metzenthin has painted were indeed nude at the time, posing for life drawing classes at the Schott Center, but like a fetishist focusing on the parts that nobody else pays attention to, the artist has decided to render these faces in paint, and nothing else.
Art modeling can be dull and ache inducing for the model, and a bit weird for the artist if they’re not used to gazing for long stretches at the nude figure. Some models fall asleep or nod off, others daydream. Who knows what they’re thinking about?
These works have been painted and re-painted over the last two years by Ms. Molnar-Metzenthin, whose last show was a series of self-portraits on cloth and paper at the Press Room. Here, these faces are somewhere between realist and cartoonish. She emphasizes eyes, many droopy and tired, exaggerated to an almost manga level. The backgrounds are bold panels of solid color or drapes. Only occasionally do we see a suggestion of the chair where the model was seated.
Three of the paintings are part of the “Recycle Series,” in which Ms. Molnar-Metzenthin has painted over dissatisfying former work. Instead of priming the canvas, she leaps right in. For “Giselle (Recycling Series),” she’s flipped the original canvas upside down, leaving the original eyes, nose and lips of the former painting looking out from the model’s chest, like a bad tattoo or some surfacing subconscious. “Giselle” herself looks unfazed, looking off to the right with a knowing smirk, a red headband and a scarf her only claim to modesty. “Giselle” appears two more times, looking down or nodding off in one, and in the other, looking aside with a desultory glance, her face now wider, her smirk gone. (Without the price list, one might not guess they are the same person.) These are facets of an individual, pure subjectivity on the part of the painter, but there’s also some truth that links all three.
Similarly, a model named “Victoria” turns up three times as well — with her first appearance gracing the exhibition poster. Against a blue background, reclining with her head resting on her hand, “Victoria” could be asleep or bored, but her bright yellow headband and short curly hair make up for any suppressed wildness. In her second appearance in front of yellow, she wears a blanker expression, with the light behind her starting to darken her features. In her third and final appearance, she’s seated, looking off to her right, appearing apprehensive.
This desire to pinpoint expression makes the portraits rewarding on several viewings. “Karen” glowers with hints of irritation, while her neighbor “Michelle” looks the most classic, with the kind of wistful expression found in the Pre-Raphaelites. (Maybe not by coincidence, “Michelle” is the youngest face in the show, and Ms. Molnar-Metzenthin contrasts her subject’s innocence with the experience-filled faces of her other women.
Restaurant Roy has a new exhibition every month, frequently favoring landscapes or abstracts. This show stands out because of its daring change in technique and subject. These are faces that can’t look at us, caught somewhere between boredom, exposure, and self-awareness. We can’t look away.
When: through September, 6 p.m. – midnight, daily
Where: Roy Restaurant, 7 W. Carrillo St.
Information: 966-5636, www.restaurantroy.com