Contributed by Jacob Patrick Brooks / In “Plus,” Geoffrey Chadsey’s inventively grotesque show of drawings at Jack Shainman Gallery, the men are endlessly customizable, like sets of Mr. Potato Heads, but with dad bods instead of plastic blobs. The mylar he uses imparts a creamy sensuality that paper doesn’t, mimicking skin that makes his figures by turns seductive and horrifying. At times contour lines make the flesh look like deli meat. Nobody seems exactly sure what they’re supposed to be doing. Arms grip bodies that acquiesce or beg to be consumed. Rarely is visual context provided. Instead the figures exist in a milky void as dreamlike boyhood obsessions, anxious and perfect but beyond intimacy.
Notes on the drawings keeps our eyes moving and engaged. Some reference embarrassment. The most abundant example is grindr/whittler. Block letters say, “ADVANCED DRAWING.” The subtitle reads, “a syllabus for the
asleep ashamed.” To the right of the arm is a man with an explosion of hair, barely contained by a red visor. He seems to be pondering this own predicament, hand on chin, with a cigarette dangling from his lip. The mouth looks ripped, dragging to the right. It’s easy to imagine Chadsey initially having the face look straight at us before revising it to avoid eye contact. The result of this decision is something like a bored child playing with toys that aren’t his and a lighter: entertained for the moment but ominously needing more. The lower half of the body is a tree trunk that’s been carved away, a knife sticking in the wood. A note scrawled at the waist says, “Love the handles! Buckle up!”
Army Dad can’t seem to get comfortable, either. No fewer than six arms crisscross his upper chest and frame his head, while another pair rest more confidently at his side, hands on his hips. His face is green, and he’s wearing an American flag speedo. Just above that head is another one looking up and to the left, jaundiced, and wearing what looks like a sleep mask over eyes that nonetheless see through it. The expression is one of agitation and concern, a little like Jesus in a Renaissance painting. Judging by the multitude of scribbles on this drawing, Chadsey is as uncomfortable as his subject. But the many arms, a source of comfort as well as restraint, keep the figure securely in place. Unhappy and not afraid to show it, the man has accepted his fate.
All artists struggle, but few make their challenges as compellingly public as Chadsey does. In his work, patriarchal influence and the responsibility it implies confront adolescent impetuousness. grindr/whittler, for instance, employs skills traditionally passed down from father to son to frame the prospect of quick, anonymous sex. You can feed your id and move on, but whittling – and making art – requires patience. Among his notes, sardonic one-liners express frustration with the superego, but they are tempered by quieter contemplations, just loud enough to register doubt. This insistent ambivalence is what makes Chadsey’s work so approachable and successful. Notwithstanding his consummate skill in depicting the flesh, he worries that he’s revealing something embarrassing. He does so anyway. This brave humility draws us in. And it exhorts other artists to follow their impulses even if doing so courts open vulnerability.
“Geoffrey Chadsey: Plus,” Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 W. 20th Street, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through June 18, 2022.
About the author: Jacob Patrick Brooks is a Brooklyn painter who grew up in Kansas.