John Preble - Oil Paintings


"Special Women" By D. Eric Bookhardt
Gambit Weekly, New Orleans April 13, 1993, page 28

Perhaps because we live in a transitory time for women and their roles, there have of late been numerous art shows focusing on the female persona. What all this means is anyone's guess, but a four-person expo at Hall-Barnett is one of the more intriguing exhibitions to be seen about town.

Mysterious and vaguely familiar are John Preble's paintings, smallish canvasses of copper toned damsels of color, tightly cropped heads with eerily dispassionate demeanors. Almost deadpan, they stare like witnesses in veiled appraisal. And they appear to be looking right at us. Not quite accusing, they stare mutely, insouciantly insinuating that they have seen it, whatever it is. As though the truth cannot be hidden, not at all, because they know. And though they are not saying, their silence speaks volumes, a soft monotone of silence that is arresting.

Of course monotones can also be monotonous. Still, if one plays a simple song of a few notes, simplicity hardly matters if it is haunting. And these are. While interest might be aided by more variety, Preble's monomania is both a weakness and a strength.

"Some Alarming Women" by D. Eric Bookhardt
Gambit Weekly
, New Orleans January 25, 1994 page 85

John Preble is currently showing at Hall-Barnett. Preble's pictures perpetually rotate, however, purchased off the walls by cash-and-carry art buffs. But if the show is always changing, most of his images at least share certain traits. Preble is inspired by what he calls the "green-eyed people," those descended from quadroon pleasure places run by the Creole French in 19th century St. Tammany Parish.

Haunted by the exotic aura of the tawny-skinned, green-eyed women of one such community near his studio, he, being a painter, proceeded to paint them.
Most are straight-up, head and shoulders portraits that face the viewer frontally, with disarming presence. They are rendered simply, in the dusky hues of a century and a half ago, shades of mocha, burnt orange and ripe avocado. And Preble's women are complex and multi-layered. But unlike other artists, Preble does not invest his subjects with quivering, overwrought intensity or tortuous torrents of angst.

Not the Preble's Creoles lack intensity far from it but theirs is of a different modality. Self-possessed yet ironically bemused, their pale eyes are luminous with secret knowledge. In this they are one, despite being many. The eyes return our gaze with candid appraisal, even as their secrets remain safe behind the wary half-smile of an Afro-Caribbean Mona Lisa. Preble's Creoles express a singular vision of women as earthly vessels of some eternally protean portent flash of infinity just beyond the diaphanous veil of shadows.

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John Preble . 71563 St Joseph St . Abita Springs . Louisiana 70420