Here We Aren’t, So Quickly

Originally posted in GalleryCrawl

Under Pseudonym: Erin Tireses

The burnt grass under the lasso of a naked hermaphroditic cowboy in Bronco Buster, by Hiroyuki Nakamura, absorbs viewers by offering them a hint of a world beyond the canvas. This typifies the intriuing nature of all the paintings on display in “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly”, a group show at Thierry Goldberg Projects. All three artists in the show successfully engage the viewer, but each does so in drastically different ways.

Hiroyuki Nakamura grabs the viewer with the narrative nature of his paintings. The simple detail of the scorched earth in Bronco Buster informs the viewer that the scene in the painting is merely a snapshot of a long story. All of Nakamura’s paintings in this show depict dramatic moments for their subjects, and each is filled with details that challenge the viewer to form a plausible narrative. These details are so intriguing that they inspired lively discussions and debates at the opening. While lassos are normally hurled outward, this cowboy spins his around himself. Is this a form of defense or self-imposed entrapment? The headless scarecrow strapped to his back could be a reflection of the plight of a hermaphrodite living in a culture wedded to gender binaries, as the sexless body is bound to his own at every joint, in a way that he could not have tied to himself. Or it could represent his dream to be a cowboy while living on a manicured lawn behind a white picket fence, since his posture is intimidating but no one is present to be scared. He could be staring at the dark woods on the other side of the pristine fence with longing or fear. We don’t know. His face is turned away from the viewer. The lack of answers to these questions might frustrate viewers in a lesser painting, but the phenomenal composition of this work makes it pleasing to struggle with the uncertainties. The figure of the cowboy is masterfully modeled, with the exception of his boots and hat, which transition into the flat style of the grass and fence. The curve of the fence seems to dance with the treeline of the abstract woods in the background.

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Bronco Buster, by Hiroyuki Nakamura. Photo by Erin Tireses.

The works of Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline also absorb the viewer and beg a series of questions, not with narrative details, but with vague, unsettling images. His works are far more abstract than the works of Nakamura. Human forms exist in each of Kaktins-Gorsline’s paintings, but they are broken into pieces, blurred and reassembled. Four of his paintings in the show use the traditional composition of portraiture. He paints some elements of his subjects in a photorealistic style, using his paint to recreate the pattern of light and dark that would appear on a form when photographed. But he represents the faces of his subjects in a more painterly style, creating space with the paint itself. The marks, colors, and weight of the paint engage the viewers and force them to consider the figures’ relationships to the art that depicts them.

Slip Across Lad features a photorealistic head of hair, but where the face should appear, instead two hands emerge from the abstract background. Heavy chunks of paint balance the composition.  However, the hands are slightly unnerving – either one is inverted or they are both right hands—and each reaches for a wispy white line weaving down the center of the piece that neither can grasp. The viewer is left to wonder if this is because of one figure’s deformity, or the inability of two figures to work together.

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Slip Across Lad, by Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline. Photo by Erin Tireses.

In Best Boy, the ghostly image of a face is pushed back in space and its features are only vaguely suggested by the brushstrokes, while its shoulders stand boldly in the foreground. The viewer must question whether the figure is in the process of using its own arms to take shape, or if its sturdy shoulders are holding it back, keeping the details of its face hidden.

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Best Boy, by Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline. Photo by Erin Tireses.

Kaktins-Gorline’s fifth and largest painting in the show,November, presents the full bodies of at least two figures, as evidenced by four feet at the bottom of the canvas. However, similarly to the hands in Slip Across Lad, the poses seem impossible, and the viewer considers if there are more figures lost in the jumble, or if the two are horribly deformed. But like inBronco Buster, the tension is tolerable, even desirable, because of the quality of the composition. Kaktins-Gorline uses ambiguity well. The torsos of these figures are reminiscent of the faces in his other paintings – open spaces filled with dynamic chunks of paint. The viewer wants a reason to take time to explore these spaces and decide if two human forms are being mutilated, or several people are coming together and working in harmony.

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November, by Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline. Photo by Erin Tireses.

The works of Guy Ben-Ari attract the viewer with the psychology of their subjects. Odd mental states are obvious in the subjects’ faces and are also physically manifested through strange objects that inhabit their otherwise familiar domestic spaces. Narcissist Seat shows us a man separated from a woman by a series of mirrors coming out of his chair, reflecting every detail of his face back at himself. The contentment in his expression is obvious, but this and Ben-Ari’s other paintings are slightly less successful at absorbing the viewer than the works of the others artists in the show. The composition lacks the interesting variety of techniques deployed by the other artists, who use these techniques to explore both their subjects and the spaces they inhabit. Ben-Ari seems very interested in the faces of his subjects, but he is clearly less interested in their spaces. His rendering of patterned wallpaper and hardwood floors in Narcissist Seat add nothing to the composition, and don’t relate well to the painting as a whole. The slightly boring nature of these details may attempt to reflect the boring pattern of his figures’ lives. But this idea, while interesting, has been explored before, and Ben-Ari’s rendering does not add interesting nuances. The spaces lose the attention of the viewer rather than stimulate further thought.

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Narcissist Seat, by Guy Ben-Ari. Photo by Erin Tireses.

The ability to add nuance to a well-known subject is exactly what the works of Hiroyuki Nakamura do so successfully. LikeBronco Buster, all of his paintings explore the problematic myth of the American West as a land of freedom. This idea has been explored ad nauseum, but by forcing the viewer to create a narrative with his haunting details, Nakamura literally forces us to change and re-imagine that old, American narrative.

In My Own Private West, a cowboy with his head buried in his hat crouches in a sterile living room. A melting, long-fingered hand sits on his windowsill in a nod to Salvador Dali, whose brand of surrealism Nakamura uses to paint the window itself. Outside the window is an abstract world of zebras being herded by the Marlboro Man, who seems to have crawled down from a billboard in the distance. The billboard is now blank and its beams are exposed. Evenly spaced seams and the abstract style of the scene outside the window imply it is a painting, leading the viewer to believe that the cowboy has nailed this misrepresentation of the American West to the exterior of his suburban house. And if the viewer studies the painting closely, they will notice that the hand on the windowsill is actually that of the cowboy. His severed limb is hidden by his hat, but a stick is strapped to his stub, and that stick holds a “Rocky Mountain Marshmallow” over a fire. The marshmallows strewn across the floor are the most sensitively painted part of the whole stunning work, and as they drip off of his stick, they destroy a wooden guitar.

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My Own Private West, by Hiroyuki Nakamura. Photo by Erin Tireses.

As in the works of John Irving, Nakamura reuses the metaphor of missing limbs as physical representations of mental inabilities.Annie Withdraws alludes to the great sharpshooter Annie Oakley and critiques the role of women in the male-dominated narrative of the American West. This is not a new critique of the myth, but again, the details of this painting argue the point in a fascinating manner. In Annie Withdraws, a handless woman holds forth a smoking gun like the body of Christ in a haunting reinterpretation of the Pieta. The woman has fired the gun despite lacking hands, and she has shot the face out of a figure who appears to be her husband. The cowboy husband is actually a cardboard cutout, yet he leaves a trail of blood, ostensibly from the injury. Annie’s distant, vacant gaze is reminiscent of the many protagonists from old Western movies who stare out at the frontiers before them, yet all the details around her re-infuse the look with a new set of chilling capabilities.

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Annie Withdraws, by Hiroyuki Nakamura. Photo by Erin Tireses.

All of the artists in “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” tackle the challenge of depicting the human form, and in doing so, say something intriguing about being human. Each artist explores the nuanced relationship between figures and the spaces they inhabit, and in the process, unearths truths about our relationship with the spaces we inhabit. This relationship is often far more loaded with history, mythology, abstraction, and ideas of domesticity than we ever consider. The most successful pieces in this show remind us of this, and add new details to these old ideas. Meanwhile, by placing several such works next to each other, the show as a whole forces us to think even further. Two human forms blend together and fade into the background, challenging us to confront the idea of sharing space with another human being and maintaining our individuality; while a cowboy on the adjacent wall stands perfectly modeled except for his extremities, which flatten as he reaches for the landscape of the frontier.

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