Seth Camm, a prolific San Antonio artist, delivers in full discourse an intense half-dozen new paintings of recent portraits. Meeting Seth in his studio in January to pick the paintings that were going to be part of the “Switch 36” exhibition, I fully understood the immense scholarly aptitude he has given to each work. Each brush stroke, each color deviation, each application of paint and swatch of color were systematically deliberate. Yes, the often seemingly recluse artist is exceptionally cordial and humble in his prose. His studio, a reclaimed maintenance closet in the back corner of Highwire Galleries and Studios is jammed packed full of artwork.
In our attempts to pull painting after painting from the storage racks overhead, Seth had to remove his wet oil paint palette from the room, afraid one of us would rub up against the slathers of fresh and wet oil paint that sits waiting for is application to his impressionistic masterpieces. However, the crammed space is no hindrance on Seth’s artistic vision. One stool, a few shelves, a couch and a studio easel make up the interior of his simplistic atelier existence. Hovering above us are relics of his homeless series, the uneasy demonic and subliminal hellscapes, impressionistic still-lifes, and much more. They weigh heavy on us as if metaphysical burdens, pushing down to keep Seth anchored to his easel, escape being futile. But, that is the way he likes it.
Although known for his portraits of those in homeless destitution on the streets of San Antonio, Seth can also paint warm, kind and holy contemporary iconological renditions using everyday models. In “Switch 36” we get to see his trinity series of the Madonna. Three twenty-something women are rendered in a classical Caravaggio style with a subtle chiaroscuro sensibility, giving dramatic painterly aesthetic to pious 21st century mankind. Halos of gold give radiance to these portraits. As contrasted with his Bosch-esque renditions of Hell, these ladies are crowned with a glowing vivacity that shows the artist’s ability to portray virtue as well as evil.
Rounding out the six new paintings is a smaller portrait of a young African American girl. Gazing into the infinite foreground, her eyes pierce through the viewer. We stand naked as she exposes all that is wrong with humanity. Her natural Afro curl and grayish green bow and headband add a singular embodiment of formal attire to this seemingly simplistic image. Intentionally unfinished on the lower portion, the portrait fades on the edges which draw our attention even more to her eyes. Flinching from the tear in my eye, sensing the greatness of this painting, I am not fooled. I know it is not a gateway to her soul, but an unemotional expression of the imminent drudgery in this flawed worldly existence.