By Dennis Kardon
If it has been Kerry James Marshall’s mission to correctively normalize the presence of black people in the high art canon, might David Humphrey’s emotionally complex painting, The Swimmer, be seen as a white painter’s deliberate gesture of solidarity in achieving that equilibrium? In Humphrey’s current show “I’m Glad We Had That Conversation” at Fredericks and Freiser, The Swimmer, stands out by eschewing his usual abstract trope of large energetic brush marks for a deceptively simple confrontation between a shirtless tall young white guy seen from behind, and a laughing curvaceous black woman. Humphrey emphasizes his formal abstraction in the shapes and colors of a wobbly grey auto fragment, green shrub and red brick hedge in the foreground, and to the colors of the bodies, and sky blue negative spaces they create. Then he provocatively sexualizes the interaction by having the guy defensively self-embrace his naked white torso in low-slung butt-revealing blue trunks, while a white bikini emphasizes the luscious brownness of the woman’s half-nude body. But finally Humphrey complicates it all by allowing the expression made by her closed eyes and wide-open pink lips and white teeth, the ambiguity of flirtatious laughter or derisive mockery.