Curated by Lauren Cornell
If “painting is watching,” as artist Ei Arakawa wrote recently, then these artists are looking hard—not just with their eyes but with their entire bodies, and putting their amorous, politicized, witty gazes on display. Leidy Celeste Nicole presents three artists whose practices pivot around painting but spiral out to embrace more explicitly expressive forms, such as performance and collective agitating. And yet, their work comes full circle as these more communal, embodied gestures are brought back to the canvas. Whether their works are entirely literal or gestural, or somewhere along the spectrum in between, the artists are painting real spaces, real bodies, and real positions as they are being lived, in all their awkwardness and heat.
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s new paintings on view depict unfolding dramas: A group of artists have a collective freak-out after receiving an eviction notice; a ghostly gang of friends read tarot cards somewhere in suburbia; and a topless woman shoots an affectionate, wincing glance across a bright beach. All these scenes are both specific and abstract—this is Dupuy-Spencer’s life, her friends, her lover, but these are also some of the common risks, pleasures, and thoughtful pauses that are part of being an American artist, and someone looking with a queered perspective.
A line can be drawn between these paintings and the work of Nicole Eisenman who, while friends with both Dupuy-Spencer and Churchman, also helped shape the style of painting engaged with daily life, politics and community in which they are all working (see also Niki de Saint Phalle, Marlene Dumas, Otto Dix, Max Ernst, and more). Here Eisenman presents an array of never-exhibited drawings from the past fifteen years. These works, which have accumulated in the flat files in her studio, are variously finished or remain as sketches, take the form of letters to friends and frenemies or of scribbles on cocktail napkins. They are presented in sketchbooks as well as pinned up on the wall—an installation that reveals a back-channel of ideas, annoyances, jokes, tender exchanges, and rehearsals behind a decade and a half of artistic practice.
In this exhibition, Leidy Churchman departs from figurative works to present an abstract floor painting. While in previous floor-bound works Churchman painted the bodies of disrobed friends with everything from leather whips to paintbrushes, this new work presents a more intimate process of feeling things out: physically applying different tones, rubbing out paint globs, obsessing over lines, extending gestures, according to the day or Churchman’s mood. A video captures this process from above, showing the artist creating, in his words, “an un-still-life painting that binds together composition, action (the act), personality, and a sense of real time.”
The works in Leidy Celeste Nicole are not tied by a common theme, but they explore a shared approach. All three point toward similar terrain, in which painting, drawing, and mark-making are imbued with politics, and with the body and biography.