Abshalom Jac Lahav began his "Great Americans" series in 2008 after seeing a Discovery Channel documentary that was based on a poll asking viewers to vote for the greatest American. Chagrined that Oprah Winfrey placed higher than polio vaccine discoverer Jonas Salk, Lahav created his own idiosyncratic list, painting larger-than-life surrealist portraits of 39 celebrities, from George Washington to Lindsay Lohan. (Oprah made the cut, as did skewed versions of Susan B. Anthony, Dick Cheney, and Notorious BIG.)
Charlie Chaplin is indicative of Lahav's style of painting, which employs well known images of the famous in new contexts, but still references historical modes of painting and black-and-white photography through its use of monotone imagery. "Even though it looks like a photo, it's actually paint," says Lahav. "Paint allows me to deconstruct the concept of how important realism is for the audience. The closer you get, the more it's deconstructed—it looks drippy up close. It deconstructs itself."
Daniel Belasco, curator of exhibitions and programs at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, and curator of the show "Screen Play," in which Lahav has two paintings, believes the artist is bent on rendering 20th-century celebrity as ancient myth. "Lahav considers American fandom as something classical, not the fleeting matter of tabloid news, but consisting of enduring icons that take on significance beyond the immediate pleasures of their celluloid image," says Belasco.
Lahav spends most of his time at his home in the Greene County town of Lexington. Although he's hampered by spotty cell reception and no Internet connection, Lahav finds the languid pace of life more enjoyable than Brooklyn, his former home. And there are small country rituals that Lahav and his wife find charming. "Every Sunday night we go to Town Hall to get their wireless [Internet] like homeless people," say Lahav.
Two paintings by Abshalom Jac Lahav are being shown through November 10 as part of the group exhibition "Screen Play: Hudson Valley Artists 2013" at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz. Portfolio: Actiondocument.com.