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Eleven New Paintings by Andy Denzler Smear the Figure

Shifting Sense of Place, 2019, Oil on canvas, 140 x 120 cm.

By CORI HUTCHINSON, April 2019 

All images courtesy of the artist. 

Introspection, a solo exhibition of new work by Andy Denzler, is on view May 3 - May 19, 2019 at Opera Gallery New York. For more information: http://www.operagallery.com/andy-denzler-introspection-newyork.

Swiss artist Andy Denzler offers a smattering of familiar technique and fatigued form in newfangled oil works. These eleven paintings spread laterally across the canvas in his beloved style, render solitary, focal figures in moments interrupted only by horizontal, smearing brushstrokes. The edgelessness of the forms transports the bodies, garments, and furniture to a plane both aloof and haunted, neither here nor there. Denzler’s work directly responds to the coy effect of photorealism, instead invoking Jean Baudrillard’s notion of “paradise” on earth/in real-time: “Against this artificial paradise of technicity and virtuality, against the attempt to build a world completely positive, rational, and true, we must save traces of the illusory world’s definitive opacity and mystery” (1). Denzler saves traces a la Baudrillard by way of his process: composition to the end of de-composition. First, the scene is wrought, then using wet-on-wet, challenged.  

Girl on a Brown Leather Sofa II, 2019, Oil on canvas, 140 x 120 cm.

His models feel both identifiable and anonymous, faceless and opaque, yet distinguishable. If his scenes were once “frozen” in time, they are now glacially melting before the viewer on the horizon as a block of butter in a simple pan. The eye is drawn to this movement. And it is not just the body that is active, but the hair, leather, soul too, commingling in the paint color and texture. All elements are interspersed and kinetic. 

Woman With Glass Bowl, 2019, Oil on canvas, 120 x 140 cm.

In this new set, the female figures are often seen lounging between milky walls and sheer fabric. This is the case with “Girl on a Brown Leather Sofa II,” “The Examination,” “Tattooed Girl on a Bed,” and “Woman With Glass Bowl.” In each, there is an ambivalence in the woman’s expression and posture, as if indifferent to the gaze of the artist, falling somewhere between classical portraiture and contemporary fashion photography. In this selection, the horizontal line “glitch” resembles almost an asemic text, as legible as the folds of linen or the sheen on an oak headboard. Each figure is particularized by a subtle, gestural detail, respectively: a wide, lacy sleeve, a tattoo, a chin blemish, a glass bowl. 

Introspection I, 2019, Oil on canvas, 210 x 180 cm.

The male figures in “Introspection I,” “Self portrait in Black,” and “Daydreamer” are all upright. The first two hover against a charcoal backdrop, looking down. “Introspection” wears a somber and formal coloring. His dark gray coat is only differentiated from the backdrop by a not-quite-halo lining of white. The figure’s hands are holding each other and a glimmer of a bracelet or watch is rendered by a quick, diagonal brushstroke. 

Selfportrait in Black , 2019, Oil on canvas, 210 x 180 cm.

In “Selfportrait,” the figure stares down at his open palms, echoing if not extrematizing Belgian artist Michael Borremans’s strange and wonderful composition in “Man Looking Down at His Hand” (2007).  The pose is reminiscent of that quintessential early scene in all superhero films during which the hero is momentarily mystified by his own power, often emanating from the mortal paw.  In interviews, Denzler will, unprompted, express an affinity for cave paintings, which he believes will define the first and last illustrations of the human artist class. The Spartan backdrop of both paintings recalls that belief as the figures barely illuminate their cavernous surroundings.

Daydreamer, 2019, Oil on canvas, 180 x 150 cm.

“Daydreamer,” on the other hand, sits on a slick desk, ankles exposed, looking up ecstatically (or drowsily) toward a luminous window, basking in the glow. It appears as if there are a pair of phantom legs dangling to the right of his own; the figure is parodied by a distant watertower. 

Introspection III, 2019, Oil on canvas, 450 x 180 cm, triptych.

“Introspection III,” a triptych, represents a woman in three active poses wearing some of the best renderings of tattered denim shorts I’ve seen. The neutral, fleshy palette is accented by flashes of orange around the figure, as if demonstrating the fiery and musical heat of motion. Denzler nods to the triptychs of Francis Bacon here. 

Leni Sleeping on a Pillow, 2019, Oil on canvas, 70 x 80 cm.

Of these new paintings, my favorite is the precious outlier “Leni Sleeping on a Pillow.” It reminds me immediately of Lucian Freud’s “Still-life with Book” (1991-2) in which a pillow is used as a bookmark or paperweight in order for the two pages on display in the painting to lie flat. The folded black creature—dog? possum? “Leni”—here is providing that same weight to this composition. The paint has cracked at the bottom in large blocks, a dash of turquoise provides sheen to the animal’s coat and cheeks, its backend is smeared off the canvas as if the soul and body were pulling apart in dreams. The scene is both gothic and adorable, mundane yet ferociously symbolic in the vein of Blake. An intense speed is communicated by the way the shadow background in the first quadrant is darting horizontally and then stilled by the presence of the furry animal. The pillow, although extremely flat, resembles a cushy island of comfort and respite. The lines within the smearing resemble drool. 

Tattooed Girl on a Bed, 2019, Oil on canvas, 70 x 80 cm.

The horizontal smear that is a staple of Andy Denzler’s work does not render his models plummeting hell-bound nor in spiritual ascension. They feel planted, firmly earthly, harkening other panoramic motions such as the metaphor of a book (page-flipping), reeling through ancient microform, rock formations, layered cake, the cyclical spin of laundry, thread on a rugged loom. This panning resists a digital (vertical) scroll. Moreover, capturing a contemporary malaise through a vintage lens corrupts the image. Denzler aptly expresses this distance between perception and reality, as in the poem “The Man With the Blue Guitar” by Wallace Stevens, which gestures to Picasso, acknowledging the limitations of art to articulate the “real:”

And things are as I think they are

And say they are on the blue guitar (2).

Introspection II, 2019, Oil on canvas, 180 x 150 cm.

It is really a theater of painting, rather than a single photographic scene that is captured by these individual works. The final painting, “Leni Sleeping on a Pillow” is no paradise of technicity, to resuscitate Baudrillard. In fact, it thrashes against that vision simply by way of the subject being at its most docile, as if told to “act natural,” then napped.

The Examination, 2019, Oil on canvas, 70 x 80 cm.

It is ever-affirming to see an artist hone in on what is surely a gripping practice, especially one that is so difficult to net with the temperamental device that is modern language. In these very fresh (almost still-wet) works, Denzler masters technical proficiency and sapient tension between a pop art process and a palette that is both fleshy and industrial. However, it appears he is leaning into a more romantic affliction this year, channeling a contemplative weariness of spirit and physical form.

For more information on Andy Denzler, see his website: http://www.andydenzler.com/.  WM 

Notes: 

1. "The Murder of the Real." The Vital Illusion, by Jean Baudrillard and Julia Witwer, Columbia University Press, 2001, p. 74. 

2. Stevens, Wallace. "The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens." Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=21658. 

 

Cori Hutchinson

Cori Hutchinson is a poet, watercolorist, and library assistant living in Brooklyn. 

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