In the 1920s, brothers Roman and Constantin Chatov fled the Soviet revolution for the greener pastures of New York. Former costume designer Roman reportedly created the scarf that strangled dancer Isadora Duncan when it was caught in the wheels of a car. An accomplished portraitist like his brother, Constantin painted screen idols including Veronica Lake and Clark Gable. As longtime Atlanta art instructors, Constantin and Roman also influenced countless local artists.
One day before the opening of a Chatov exhibition at Mason Murer, Roman's son Marc milled around the gallery, the living witness to three painters in the family.
In isolation, none of the many Chatov works on display are mind-blowing; all three are skilled painters who share a romantic approach including a love of women and color. Lovely, bare-breasted women have their pudenda judiciously covered, à la Austin Powers, by bowls of fruit or softly draped fabric. And all three painters have had their circus moment, embracing the sad-eyed circus folk, clowns and Pierrots beloved by devotees of tortured, despondent kitsch.
The Chatovs are clearly influenced by movements from cubism to impressionism, and artists from Picasso to Velázquez to Cézanne. Some may find value in Constantin's and Roman's demonstration of classical technique and old-school skill. But just as many will delight in how the painters' work changes over time and reflects the cultural and artistic values of various eras. Constantin's almond-eyed African-American beauty, "Florda‚" from 1965 and Roman's giraffe-necked couple rendered in the glass-shard cubist manner in "Abyssinians" (1967) drip with the ethos of a melancholy, lean and angular 1960s style. It's a style that has since been absorbed into the culture in venues both unholy and sacred, in hotel art and museum collections.
Roman is the artist's artist, playing with form. His style evolves over time from tobacco-stained, elegant portraits of women in the '30s and '40s to '70s work with the moody, soft-focus character of an Eagles rock ballad. In contrast, Constantin's work shows a remarkable consistency throughout the decades, favoring bold impasto, jewel tones and portraits of women whose guarded body language consistently conveys emotional distance.
Marc clearly drew from both men's influence. He has embraced a classical style (represented here by a heavy emphasis on still life) and continued in the Chatov brothers' tradition of portraiture. And there is an unfortunate detour into harlequin psychodrama – one family tradition it might have been best not to resurrect.
Marc, Constantin and Roman Chatov. Through Jan. 20. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. Mason Murer Fine Art, 199 Armour Drive. 404-879-1500. www.masonmurer.com.