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Russ Warren: The Denial of Death

11 March, 2023 - 30 April, 2023

Les Yeux du Monde is pleased to present a solo exhibition of new work by Russ Warren, The Denial of Death, which will run from March 11th to April 30th, 2023.

The title of Warren’s exhibition pays homage to the existentialist philosopher, Ernest Becker, and his book of the same name. Becker’s critique examines global perspectives on the subject of the human condition. He focuses in particular on different ideas surrounding mortality, such as the construction of social shields against the reality of human vulnerability in an impassive universe, and explores the relationship of madness and creativity in the revelation of “truth,” notions Warren has pondered in his art throughout his career. These ideas have acquired a special resonance in his recent work in which he grapples with the loss of his wife and Les Yeux du Monde gallery Founder and Director, Lyn Bolen Warren.

Warren has long been inspired by Spanish masters Velázquez, Goya, and Picasso. The influence of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo is also evident in his work. Still, he has carved a path uniquely his own, using dramatic color and line and wild variations in scale and shadow to depict his subjects in emotional and often humorous ways.

In this new body of work Warren takes a soberer and, at times, edgier, tone. At the heart of this exhibition is the artist’s attempt to come to grips with the brutal irruption of death into life, even as he explores existentialist concepts of mortality. The inevitable presence of death in life is something Warren has alluded to in previous work. His paintings of the 1980s, in which strange angular figures populate precipitous border spaces of bright tilting grounds and dark plunging canyons, suggest the unsettling proximity of the realms of life and death, as do the works of his vibrant Magic Mountain series (2008-2013), starring expressive, animated skulls. Arising out of the starkly dramatic landscape and cultural traditions of his native Southwest, the earlier works allude to the existence of death in a kind of off-hand, natural, and often funny way.

In Warren’s new paintings, death’s presence cuts closer to the bone. Conceived in the months following the loss of his beloved partner, in these works the artist conveys the disorientation and dissolution wrought by death’s agent, grief. He reduces himself to a gaunt aural entity in The Scream II and appears as broken and exposed on a spiraling wheel in High Anxiety. In some paintings, he seems to have entered death’s realm himself: in A Good Man’s Dilemma, a figure leaps from the high mountains into dark, empty blue air. In other paintings the artist/subject is tellingly accompanied by a female partner who appears to suffer with him, their shared anguish reflecting their love for one another, even as she separates from him as in Jacob’s Ladder: The Fall from Grace. The artist makes the images in the absence of the muse but somehow the muse is there as a loving collaborator all the same. A series of smaller portraits depicting her in various attitudes reinforces our sense of her presence. Death may be inevitable, but in Warren’s grief-stricken images it acquires a porousness with life: in The Denial of Death, he paints himself amid the rocks and cacti of his birthplace gazing at the beautiful Lyn poised against a starry cosmos. In Warren’s work, the space of death is vitalistic.

Russ Warren was born in Washington, DC in 1951, grew up in Houston, Texas and began his training as an artist at the University of St. Thomas, Houston in 1969. He received his BFA in 1973 from the University of New Mexico, his MFA in 1977 from the University of Texas in San Antonio, and taught painting and printmaking at Davidson College from 1978 – 2008.

Warren has exhibited work widely throughout the United States and abroad, including in such prestigious exhibitions as the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial, as well as at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Mint Museum, SECCA, and the Hickory Museum of Art. His work is included in numerous important public and private collections, including that of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Mint Museum, the Gibbes in Charleston, the Virginia Museum of Art and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Warren’s work has been reviewed in important publications including The New York Times, Arts Magazine, and Art in America, and by critics including Roberta Smith, Carter Ratcliff, Barry Schwabsky, and Donald Kuspit.


11 March, 2023
30 April, 2023


Les Yeux Du Monde
841 Wolf Trap Rd
Charlottesville, VA 22911 United States


Les Yeux du Monde