Contributed by Margaret McCann / Catherine Mulligan’s captivatingly repellant “Bad Girls Club” at Tara Downs takes irreverent aim at American culture. Creatures of habitual selfies, her satirical painted ladies contend with the pressures of appearance. They would be at home in a John Waters film, where viewing likewise shifts between distaste, amusement, and aesthetics. Mulligan frames each painting with angular, industrial-looking signage that doesn’t detract but, like Polyester’s scratch-and-sniff option, adds a contrasting layer of interest. A zombie-esque girl in Nocturne 2 peeks at us over her shoulder with an intrusive blend of seduction and complicity, a boundary violation that almost breaks the fourth wall. Her grin, like that of Chucky’s bride or Otto Dix’s “Lady in Mink,” portends the unpleasant. But unlike Dix’s fallen women, survivors in post-World War I Germany, Mulligan’s anti-heroines are vapid consumers of leisure.
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Contributed by Margaret McCann / Kent O’Connor’s “Everything All at Once” at Mendes Wood DM comprises small portraits, landscape studies, and several larger paintings, including still-lifes in shallow interiors, which he calls tabletops. The show’s evocative title, which relates to their multiplicity, may also be after a song or film. O’Connor’s description qualifies intense observation with the levity of comics.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / Vincent van Gogh drew from many sources in his short, intensely inventive career. “Van Gogh’s Cypresses,” now up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, highlights his encounter with the Mediterranean conifer. A symbol of mourning, it dramatically punctuates the Tuscan landscape, and appears in paintings by Leonardo, in Arnold Bocklin’s Isle of the Dead series (who probably it in Rome), and Salvador Dali, among others. Van Gogh noticed the “interesting, dark note” in the Provencal landscape, near the end of a peripatetic life.
Contributed by by Margaret McCann / The theme of nocturnal interiors in Kyle Dunn’s solo show “Night Pictures” at PPOW highlights his fascinating handling of light and shadow. A pared-down technical vocabulary also shows less can be more. Absent in these paintings are cushiony bas-relief surfaces that can distract from his ingenuity on the flat plane, where illusionism and abstract pattern contend. Blending realism and Synthetic Cubism – using found or computer-generated imagery in applications like Photoshop, rather than paper and glue – cartoony simplification plays off precise description, shifting between levity and intensity.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / “At the Center of the Onion is Another Onion” is Polish painter Krzysztof Grzybacz’s first solo show at Harkawik. Sturdy yet subtle, his paintings are as elliptical as they are intense. Beyond unpeeling their complexity, his work offers consideration of a larger onion, that of figurative painting’s path through eastern Europe.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / En masse in Hirschl & Adler’s brimming rooms, Julie Heffernan’s colorful, busy paintings overwhelm like a pride of peacocks. Her solo show “The Swamps are Pink with June,” a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, evokes the hope nature can inspire. This plays out in iconography, a saturated palette, and the adoption of tree diagrams as compositional trellises, which poise the accretion of experience against spontaneous flowerings from the unconscious.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / The covetous, dismissive, playful title of Don Doe’s 490 Atlantic show, “I’ll Have What They’re Having,” aptly conveys the work’s lively yet frustrated romanticism. Painting from collages, Doe mixes bodies and genders, scale and spatial orientation, subject and object, high and low culture – all held together in a solid but illogical cubistic order. The few sculptures included show sophisticated facility and prioritize the grotesque. The viewer is manipulated through surprising twists and turns.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / Issy Wood’s paintings in “Time Sensitive” at Michael Werner gallery render transient facets of our daily simulacrum timeless. As though passed through a vintage filter, they seem to recall a. Claude glass, an 18th c pocket-sized, toned mirror that could turn any scrappy piece of wilderness into “a vision of painterly charm: framed and set apart from the rest of the landscape, color palette simplified, bathed in gentle, hazy light.” Aided by a new picturesque aesthetic that combined “the sweetness of the beautiful, cut with some of the sublime’s majestic terror,” ramblers who couldn’t afford the Grand Tour found beauty in local scenery with this handy device. Today one need not even venture outdoors to see anything new. Overstimulation awaits on a quick screen scroll, shifting from monuments to corrective braces to kittens to a Ukrainian battlefield in seconds. Woods slows this high-low flow, turning incongruous images fished from the cyber-stream into often amusing visual meditations with surprising emotional depth.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / Stylistic affinities hold the paintings of Cathy Diamond and Laurie Fader in “Luscious Wasteland” at Radiator Gallery in amicable rapport, before differences in sensibility emerge. Each painter mines the legacies of German Expressionism and American Abstract Expressionism, among other influences, as confident and direct impulses draw on banks of personal experience. Diamond’s airy but compact Woods in Vermont could have been painted from observation, but reads as an excited engagement with Modernist painting vocabulary more than with motif. Its accrual of rough yet precisely individual marks quickly bunches together. Our eyes dart around its prismatic surface, echoing how one might, in such a dappled thicket, quickly survey a way around the center bottom bramble to reach light.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / As though having carefully observed the painter paint them, Israeli painter Yedidya Hershberg’s figures, on view at Sugarlift, appear to now scrutinize the viewer.