Nigel van Wieck spent much of the 1990s painting portraits, and it shows. Not in the sense that his works in Dancers, at the Beadleston Gallery, are actual likenesses. The scenes are invented and seem to take place anywhere from the Roaring Twenties to only last night. Their concentrated abandon and hilarity populate a nightlife of clubs, ballrooms, exotic dives, torchlit townhouses the artist conjures by fusing different places and times, styles of art and fashion.
But a decade of pinning high-society subjects with psychological precision means that Van Wieck, an Englishman living in New York, can cut to the heart of atmosphere.
In “Winter’s Dance”, which outlines a glamorous couple in this case, African-American against a window, the tropical mood is the opposite of the title. That suggests a chilly decorum, while the pair, as in many of Van Wieck’s paintings, is locked in a steamy sashay blending romance and violence.
Lots of his pictures are of revellers wearing masks, not disguising their emotions so much as illustrating a need to hide. In “Liar,” a headdress sprouts black wings like a bird of prey’s. There’s just enough tension in the lighthearted air to imply that Van Wieck’s frequent mix of races, genders, classes and sexual proclivities happens only with the aid of costuming and after dark.
And who wouldn’t want to go there? Van Wieck choreographs two art forms painting and dance so they dip and twirl, caress and carouse, as one.