INTERIORS: hello from the living room
November 1 through November 29, 2020
By ALFRED ROSENBLUTH, November 2020
Now on view at 1969 gallery, the show INTERIORS: hello from the living room asks us to consider the enclosed space, a subject that has taken on new light in the shadow of the pandemic.
As a genre, the interior does not categorically exclude the representation of humans but requires any perceptible identity to be secondary to the image’s gestalt. Guy Yanai and Darryl Westly, with a graphic precision, succeed in producing such an effect that renders intimacy as an interior, albeit from opposite points of the same end. In Saint-Malo (A Summer’s Tale), painted from a still of Eric Rhomer’s 1996 film, A Summer’s Tale, Yanai presents a couple ensconced; the moment’s optic tenderness saturates both skin, sink, counter and cabinet while the outside world carries on unawares in cool greens and blue. The more nuanced subdivisions of human anatomy are all that differentiate the couple from their environment, both of which Yanai executes with the same level of impartial and measured brush strokes. In Westly's Diana in Repose, the figure's own shape is camouflaged within the multitude shapes and colors of the apartment. An otherwise straightforward study, one nevertheless gets the sense that Diana is the whole of the image and inheres in the composite of the apartment of which her body is just a part. The painting emits a sense of safety, much like the kind which the established intimacy with another permits during a shared silence.
As stay-at-home orders take effect and casual intimacy becomes verboten, we come to the theme of “retreat”, in the works of Johnny DeFeo and Aaron Zulpo. DeFeo’s Half-Dome Vista depicts a mountain retreat which for him functions as such. For DeFeo, painting has acted as a balm for the acute restlessness and anxiety which none was a stranger to during the initial phases of quarantine. The need for a space of one’s own is tangible in the painting’s realism, as it appears to have been painted from observation. Thinking of You acts as part memorial, part time capsule - Zulpo paints his newly vacant apartment, adjacent to which, the artist and his partner leave in an Uber to soon depart from New York for the less-infected West coast. Uninhabited and fictitiously illuminated, the apartment now performs the function of containing and preserving both currently suspended projects and meaningful long-past losses as well. Painting with the longing and reflection that follows the onset of stark change, these two artists create a contemplative space that sustains a connection to one’s identity.
With the familiar gone, our attention now pinpoints upon the apex of a destabilized Vatican interior in Gretchen Scherer’s “The Round Hall”. Intuitively constructed from collaged arrangements of photographic references, Scherer’s reimagined architecture reflects a collective sense of disorientation. As the composition distinguishes no “correct” orientation, days of the week likewise have lost their differentiating features. Sense of time becomes as variable as the distances between Scherer’s golden latticework, which, numbering to twelve, leaves us the image of a handless clock.
Outside of Lois Dodd’s apartment, the same yellows condense into a dull constellation of distant windows that hang in the void of night. Chair, Night, Window articulates what seems to be our new relationship to others outside any established inner-circle. It’s been suggested that the more introverted have welcomed quarantine with a developed taste for what others experience as a crushing loneliness. In this show’s context, Dodd’s haiku speaks to what visions can await those who cultivate one’s life and perceptions into a poem of solitude.
Continuing further into the domestic interior, objects take their expression from the artists’ regard. Ann Toebbe’s work investigates the shape which class and background places on one’s taste and aesthetic proclivities. Using gouache and paper cut-out techniques, this analytic predilection appears in the surgical flattening of Toebbe’s inlaws’ effects into wooden-like inlays of Holidays and isolates each object to ease scrutiny. In contrast to this sharp cartography, Amanda Barker paints from the vantage-point of deep immersion in her apartment’s personality as expressed in high contrasts of organic light and shadow. In Living Room (not pictured), unmatching lamps cast dramatic shadows in high relief on the ceiling and walls while a still from Andrew Patterson’s Vast of Night illuminates the television set, confirming cinema’s noticeable influence on the artist. Throne presents the bedroom as a space endowed with personal meaning, the bed surges towards us with a bulging objecthood that verges on the sentient.
The domestic space is equally able to place its effects on the subject, as we see in Gabrielle Garland’s and Adrienne Tarver’s works. Garland regards the domestic space as capable of revealing itself through her subjectivity, which seeds perceptual input as the work’s primary content of Untitled. Warped by the closely-regarded autonomy of her perception, the space’s input is allowed to guide the artist’s decisions as it’s reproduced through a kind of mutual arising between the observer and observed. The sharp architecture of wood and shadow in Tarver’s Shadows Approached from the Corners contrasts with the former’s co-creative flow between artist and space. Responding to the history of African-American Women’s restriction to the domestic interior, Tarver confines the viewer’s access to but a closely-cropped fragment of a home which could be a grand estate for all we know, it’s flatness reinforces a felt lack of mobility. The sole inhabitant’s shadow extends from the top of the staircase and joins with the house in bifurcating the remaining daylight.
Maintaining an active studio space is a common phrase which takes on a literal sense in regard to the work of Sophie Treppendahl and Anna Valdez, it would be even more fitting to say that theirs is an “activated studio space”. Valdez practice is to arrange objects collected in her studio into novel arrangements with one another. The energetic “Still Life With Landscape Painting” is an exercise in facilitating dialogue between unrelated objects. To Valdez, the objects of her studio are regarded for their historic and cultural contexts; as the plants extend the perceptual experience of the painting into the reality of her observed studio space, so do the dynamic relationships established between objects draw out novel connections between their divergent histories, otherwise left unexcavated. Treppendahl, taking advantage of restricted mobility, uses the act of depicting her studio space as a means of imposing order on the chaos of the pandemic which seems to be reflected in the disorder of her studio. In Red Studio, the painting’s content is the studio space itself. In this case, painting acts to immediately distill meaning from the happenstance of mid-process labors, whose own practical ends are attached to a distant outcome.
The seething vibrance of John McAllister and JJ Manford’s post-impressionist revivals distills our survey of the interior to the purely aesthetic. Evidencing his years studying masterworks in the Met as a night watchman, McCallister’s Beaming Junebright Beacon displays a honed sensibility of color balance. Unironic in it’s stylization, this arrangement of neon violets and reds argue for his intent to “be serious about making pretty pictures”. In his practice JJ Manford builds up paintings of pulsating domestic interiors on textured supports as evidenced in Interior with Milton Avery. The architectural body supplied by such materials allows for illusory objects to take on a protruding and vivid three-dimensionality.
Reaching the edge of idealism, we enter the Real’s green room of Quinten McCaffery’s platonic Sunset. Developed from no consistent set of references, it would be apt to characterize this depicted synthetic environment as a simulation which tests the grammatical structures of an interior. McCaffery’s work is an expression of the liminal - what the White Lodge might have been, had Lynch’s inspiration been BBC “Period” dramas. One is left with the sense that any attempt to exit such a space would immediately deliver them back into it from the opposite side.
The phases of a catastrophe cycle us back to where we began. The richly-depicted blue covering in the bottom right corner of Brandi Twilley’s “Hallway” could be mistaken for something similar to the blue tablecloth in Guy Yanai’s painting, however, it is a tarp which was used by Twilley and her younger sister to prevent rain from falling directly on them through the roof of their childhood home. Light from Twilley’s space heater punctuates the room’s darkened harmonies that anchor our sense of place while our attention is drawn to the ghostly blue emanating from the titular hallway. This is a memory painting of the personal tragedy of being uprooted from one’s own home, as the fire which consumed this very room was the same that took away all photographic references which could have been otherwise employed by the artist. Instead, with the use of previously-done studies and fleeting senses, Twilley reconstructs the site of formative loss and displacement - themes which many can newly relate to under the current circumstances.
It’s not insignificant that a number of these works were completed during the pandemic, however that one cannot necessarily guess which without referring to dates, is a testament to how a developed practice can digest and incorporate the experience of catastrophe with a hermetic resilience. At the moment of this publication, we approach the next phase of this pandemic of which, like the end of Twiley’s Hallway, the portents are uncertain. While COVID cases rise and the need to socially distance again become dire, the ability to construe the interior space as an engine of solace and stability to oneself amidst the attendant stress and consequences of eschewing the exterior would vary incredibly from case-to-case and can be easier said than done. It does, however, seem to be one of the few truly salvific options to pursue in the coming months, of which 1969 Gallery has provided 16 exemplary models to consider. WM