On Lispenard Street

RJ Messineo at Canada, Dctober 27-December 4, 2021/ Erika Ranee at Freight and Volume, October 29-December 11, 2021


RJ Messineo,“Trees hang their branches” (2021)

On December 11, when the little o was just a thought wafting through the air, I walked down Lispenard vaguely wondering if anyone might might appreciate a designer knock-off for Christmas, little thinking I wouldn’t visit another gallery until…well, pretty soon now, I hope.
So these two shows have been on my mind since then and luckily they are worth thinking about. Two painters with immense skills and good ideas but neither of them seems to quite trust the skills and ideas: they have added “something else” that diminishes the paintings.

RJ Messineo has sensual brushstrokes that recall young tennis players with elastic arms—lazy and flexible, not always connecting, but carrying an unexpected effortless power when they do. Trees hang…has extraordinary painterly passages; see particularly the upper left. The painting is an idle cloudy day with observations interrupted by wandering thoughts. I recognize my own attempts to be in the present—attention and the loss of attention, a circling: seeing, interrupted.
At the same time I am experiencing the brain’s ability to complete the image-to make a window frame and fill in a landscape.

RJ Messineo, “Bloom” (2021) oil, plywood and rare earth magnets on canvas

Bloom also achieves that circling, wandering landscape but Messineo has added two other elements, wood panels and rare earth magnets. I accept the panels (though Messineo doesn’t need them) because they do add crisp horizontals and verticals that give structure to the loose painting composition.  Rick Briggs writes in Two Coats, “The magnets allow the artist the flexibility to adjust the composition by moving the panels around,” and I suppose they do but surely some other way might be found to do that during the process of painting that doesn’t end up with all these annoying boltheads or buttons.

RJ Messineo, “Light House” (2021) oil, plywood and rare earth magnets on canvas

Light House is the worst example—for the most part Messineo just paints over the magnets as if they weren’t there but here the magnet is a red tit on the blue panel that becomes the focal point dominating the canvas and the ability to wander through the canvas is cancelled.

Erika Ranee, “Terribly Wonderful” (2021) acrylic, shellac, and paper collage on canvas, 60” x 60”

Erika Ranee sets up a combination/conflict of the accidental and the intentional. It is a very complex problem in painting—and in life.
Painters can cause accidents to happen in several ways. One is to use elements that are not completely controllable, like pouring liquid. Another is to make random marks with no conception of the final piece in mind, and then do it all again hoping that the unconscious mind is moving toward something that could not have been foreseen—that the accidents will be “happy.”
Then begins a complicated process of looking at the outcome of the randomness and the accidents and seeing where the painting is going and either continuing to disrupt the image or editing and enhancing what is happening with intentional marks.

Terribly Wonderful has a completely unexpected running animal that seems to have been seen in the paint and completed with an opaque blue head—it’s magical. Two things interrupt the pleasure I take in this painting—the edge is so confining that the animal cannot escape and the exclamation point in the upper left is too literal. But I do pause to think that this completely transparent process—the painting being the result of every action that the artist made, right or wrong—is also what makes it exciting and sets up that awareness that the painting is about accident and intention.


Erika Ranee, “Sea Grapes” (2021) acrylic, shellac, and spray paint on canvas, 24” x 22”

Sea Grapes is the painting that balances intention and accident most perfectly. It really appears completely accidental, though it isn’t, because the sensual interaction of the green and pink pours—and a confusion about which was applied first—command so much attention. The edges of the painting are controlled but not confining and it doesn’t take much more than blue spray painted stripes to conjure up a day at the beach.

Erika Ranee, “Wonder Bread” (2020) acrylic, shellac, resin, and paper collage on canvas, 11” x 11”


Ranee has also added “meaningful” objects and images that detract from the physical and conceptual excitement of the illusionary and allusionary references in the paintings. These references are so multiple, suggesting maps, jungles, patterned fabrics, bright sunlight in Terribly Wonderful, ruins, internal organs, thickets that might be convoluted thoughts, and so many others.
I was listening to a gallery person describe an imbedded postcard with racist content as being of special importance in Wonder Bread. I can see that the artist was trying to add literal and personal meaning to the work but her wild constructions don’t really support that strategy. In another painting, American Woman, a real palm frond turns the rest of the work into abstract splashes of paint.

I see Messineo’s “rare earth magnets” and Ranee’s embedded “meaningful objects” as gimmicks. I suspect they use them to garner attention from an audience that will not bother to look long enough to really see Messineo’s landscapes of the mind or Ranee’s shimmering optics. I see their point, really I do, but it’s a pity.


*Rick Briggs:

RJ Messineo: Existential magic