Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / Edward Thorp Gallery’s “Turn of Thought,” which unfortunately just closed, was an especially good group show worthy of even retrospective note. Styled as “contemporary narrative painting,” the exhibition featured work by six broadly representational painters, all eminently capable of summoning discomfiting storylines from seemingly naive images with great evocative efficiency and power.
David Humphrey’s three large acrylic paintings on printed vinyl, generated from smart-phone photographs, exemplify his signature arch approach: deceptively sunny and playful depictions devolve into more awkward and troubling social realities. Consider Pooch, in which a cartoonish dog’s head appears confused against a backdrop of urban decay and incongruously bright objects – birds, insects, germs, drones – hovering overhead. The subtext of this ostensibly innocent city scene seems to be disguised threat, present as well in Friends and Tread.
Elisa Jensen’s War Crane presents a shaky and distressed image of the eponymous bird standing alone on a darkened beach. There’s a surface tranquility to the painting that momentarily suggests that the suspended bright dots are stars. Then the realization hits that they are too close and amorphous to be anything so pastoral. Pollutants and the dust of combat are more likely. The girl in the hanging cage in Sostre Drille (Sister Tease) launches into unsavory socio-psychological truths more immediately.
Patrick Dunfey makes small, highly-wrought paintings that conjure Ashcan School painters and steer the viewer to dark places. An especially effective one is Bully, a 1987 depiction of a floor-mounted punching bag, dark red, through warped wooden window frame. Notoriously difficult to hit consistently and quickly, this type of bag, in such minimally appointed space, would appeal to a lone Spartan brute intent on damaging others with narrow purpose and keen precision. A tad more lighthearted, but true to his pugilistic motif, is Sucker, showing a mounted boxing glove, fully curled into a fist and poised for action.
Farrell Brickhouse uses painterly yellow specks explicitly as indicators of natural predation – hot ash, maybe – in Age of Volcanos 4. Feral Blue, showing a hobbled creature, fearful or fearsome or both, in an indeterminate visual miasma, is a thematically encompassing piece. It seems to capture three of the qualities isolated by Humphrey, Jensen, and Dunfey: jeopardy, decrepitude, and menace, respectively.
The Sky is Falling, a big, mordant painting by Judith Simonian, looks like an empty outdoor banquet set-up beneath a malevolent sky. A sickly pink dominates the cheerful yellows, oranges, and blues that would have been apt for the aborted occasion. More directly ironic is her witty little piece Snow Globe– the globe in question being a notional crystal ball revealing only a tropical scene devoid of snow.
Herbert Reichardt’s Snow House, though more suitably wintry, still shows too much green for comfort. And in two unambiguously harrowing paintings, he turns teapots – symbols of domestic reassurance – into sources of latent danger, as darkness emanates from inside the vessels. Viewed in a different time, these paintings and many others in this show would seem less freighted and foreboding. Perhaps not now, though.
“Turn of Thought,” with Farrell Brickhouse, Patrick Dunfey, David Humphrey,Elisa Jensen, Herbert Reichert, Judith Simonian,” Edward Thorp, Chelsea, New York, NY. April 26 – June 2, 2018.