Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the dire news, but scrolling through the Two Coats of Paint Gallery Guide (the best guide in NYC!) nothing excited me, couldn’t find a destination show, ergo the adoption of a geographical approach.
First on the south side, Allie McGhee at Harper’s. Though at first glance he might be seen as working in an ab-ex mode, it is definitely not of the non-objective strain. I see churning visceral seascapes painted from rocking boats, and wonder if McGhee has been in the navy.
I don’t see much in the folded paintings and I don’t care for signature motifs, in this case the “banana moon.”
But when I saw Jungle Music, something else happened. It’s an active struggle between light and darkness, the right side of the painting being almost completely white and the left completely black. The antagonists circle a tree or clash over water—it’s exciting. Alternatively, these forces are collaborating to define space.
A few minutes ago I read Michael Brennan’s excellent essay on Cora Cohen also in Two Coats and it coincided with questions I was having about McGhee’s work, particularly whether the terms currently used to describe and categorize painting might be dated and inadequate. Particularly the word “abstract” and the word “realistic” should not be used to confine McGhee’s or any other painter’s work.
Luiz Zerbini at Sikkema Jenkins presents a group of large paintings of tropical flora arranged in all-over fairly standard decorative patterns and a number of monotypes, pressed plants and whatnot. One painting stood out as an indictment of capitalistic colonialism: tropical plants, a polluted river, a tarp shelter. It was hard to figure out why it was there.
Dry River 2 and many other works in the show have underlying rippling parallel lines. This motif fills up the empty space, unifies the disparate elements and may be meant to represent a force field. Several other artists on 22nd are throwing these into their paintings as well.
Another common practice is to make some sculptural objects; in Zerbini’s case, a table of plant parts and seeds.
At Matthew Marks, Julia Phillips’ conceptual drawings, pun intended, are wispy and evocative of mysterious felt-from-the-inside internal processes. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like them before. Phillips has tenderly and tentatively drawn what is happening in her own body.
She also shows sculptures that are harsh, clinical and didactic.
Salomón Huerta at Harper’s other gallery shows a series of still lives; each one features a gun and a snack. Perhaps this would work if the wall and the table were not so perfunctorily painted. The press release mentions Mondrian and it really shouldn’t because the effect of these paintings is all in the frisson of the content.
Theresa Daddezio at DC Moore describes a world where all the surfaces are cold, shiny, curved, interlocking and impervious. She is excellent at projecting forms into space—perhaps even outer space in some works — in others, costumes with no hint of an underlying body.
Or I might be wrong. Take Ice Bloom for instance—are those glossy finishes Royal Icing concealing a moist cake inside?
As I mentioned in describing Zerbini’s work above, Daddezio also uses rippling lines, sometimes parallel and sometimes as in Ice Bloom indicating receding space. She has described them: “The continuous lines drawn within my work serve to express interconnectedness; that everything is both endlessly divisible but also inextricably tied together.”
David Huffman at Miles McEnery combines textures, patterns, stencils, glitter, and recycled motifs—like the basketball nets that were the main subjects of a prior Huffman series. I suspect that most of the painters on West 22nd are trying to fill up space as quickly as possible and are relying on their energy and compositional skills to pull it off.
I picked Children of the Sun as the image to show because it seemed to come closest to creating a dynamic conflict between a coherent landscape—the sphinxes receding into a dust storm perhaps, and fractured, disconnected patterns.
The large scale and painterly facility of Celaya’s works undercut the pathos of the lonely outsider that appears to be their only intention to convey; they are pretty and pretty manipulative.
The Thin Line is the most successful of the several works on the same theme.
I thought of the paintings of Julio Galan** who brought a much more complicated picture of dislocation with an active protagonist, flamboyant, angry and nostalgic. A painter who struggled to project his feelings—it was heartbreaking.
Also at Miles McEenery—instead of wavy lines, Elizabeth Magill uses a vaulted geometric pattern to unify or possibly to activate otherwise empty space. It’s a device that bores a bit in repetition but it doesn’t keep Open-Air 1 from being a spectacular, continuously surprising painting. The nuanced color in the sky and its reflection on the water, the swath of sunlight that cuts across the center, a particular moment, the sense of immediacy…
In this and other works, I’ve never seen an artist integrate a photographic image into a painting so beautifully. And though I missed the coherent pure painting of her earlier work, these are striking, disturbing images that might say more to viewers who “see” the world in photographs.
A question that comes up in the press release, and certainly very often in my own mind, is whether paintings might influence people to take action to preserve nature and stop climate change.
How would that work exactly? But I hope to God they can!
* Two Coats of Paint Gallery Guide
Julio Galán, “El Que Se Viene Se Va,” 1988.