At first it is difficult for the eye to know where to land. The nine large-scale canvases in Model Compositions (conjunction of the figure) are awash in color combinations that at times jar the eye, delineating human forms that appear to almost float against an undefined background. The works dominate the walls upon which they hang, their energies pulling in the viewer to commune with the shadowy figures. For their first solo show at Foundry Gallery, Duly Noted Painters are presenting a series of compositions that blend figuration and abstraction with intriguing results.
Artists Kurtis Ceppetelli and Matthew Malone, the men behind the moniker, work in tandem, riffing off of one another while simultaneously responding to the properties of their predominant medium–latex house paint. Though firmly grounded in the chance occurrences at the heart of abstraction, their newer works exhibited here display a tighter approach to painting than works from the exhibition Conversation which I reviewed in 2013. Where prior works displayed an abundance of jagged brushstrokes, the current body of work, for the most part, uses swaths of paint and looser, more flowing brushstrokes to impart their ideas. The resulting paintings are imbued with nuanced layers of emotion that add a rich complexity to the visual components of the works.
The anonymous figures that inhabit the paintings come from the duo’s participation with IA&A at Hillyer’s weekly life drawing sessions. Fleeting sketches of anonymous models created at Hillyer are brought back to the studio where Malone and Ceppetelli use them as inspiration for figures within the paintings. Look closely and you’ll see several figurative poses repeating and overlapping. Two small charcoal drawings included in the exhibition give the viewer an idea of their thought process when composing larger works. Malone notes that the two artists constantly move the sketches around their studio, pinning them on or alongside the canvases in an effort to find intriguing combinations of figures for their full-scale compositions.
From those initial sketches, bodies are fleshed out in charcoal on the canvas, while the colors that delineate flesh weave their way in and out of the background. An Aura, for example uses a color palette that contains varying tones of mauve, pink and red. The figure on the right, facing way from the viewer and rendered in a fleshy tone of pink, is foregrounded by a deeper reddish-pink hue that outlines the right side of the torso. The same flesh tone appears in the figure at left, but here that same color exists within the background surrounding the figure. The same technique can also be viewed in Danielle, where the gray and ocher on the figure’s upper chest and shoulders match the colors that frame her face and flowing hair. This painting technique sets up juxtaposing perspectives which renders the picture plane relatively flat, and provokes the sense that the bodies are floating, detached from any presumptive landscape.
With characters set apart from the space around them, the compositions focus the viewer’s attention on the emotive aspects of the work. While many interpretations are possible, a certain melancholic solitude rises to the fore. The bodies that inhabit the works invariably seem alone even when set within small groups. The ? And He Will Live in The Background feature a trio and foursome of figures respectively, yet each figure seems adrift in his (or perhaps on occasion her) thoughts. Although facial expressions are limited, the disconnect between figures is underscored by their far-off glances as they each gaze at separate points outside the image frame. The scale of the individual figures also varies slightly within each work, simulating a separation between the characters that is belied by the flat perspective within the works. Though in many cases the individuals are life-sized, the fact that we see partial torsos alongside full figures suggests a depth to the work that does not actually exist.
Color theory figures prominently within the works. While color is used to highlight the relative volume of flesh within the picture plane, Malone and Ceppetelli also build upon this physical distance between the figures by rendering some figures in tones that visually clash with the main background while other figures’ flesh blends into the background. For example, in Shadow Between the horizontal figure at right is rendered in a fleshy pink that stands out against the blue and purple tones of the painting’s background, while the dark, purplish gray of the figure at right recedes into the purple tones at the bottom of the work. A similar dynamic appears in co-in-ci-den-tal where the pink and orange tones in the left figure sets him visually apart from the figure at right. This dynamic heightens the space between individual figures while subtly injecting a sense of emotional drama into the work.
The painters’ color combinations largely contribute to this sense of unease. As a whole, the exhibition presents a rich variety of tones, yet within individual works, the particular color combinations are often visually jarring while the overall application of paint on the canvas mutes the colors, softening their intensity. Co-in-ci-den-tal for example features a horizon line that separates shades of rust on the bottom from gradients of bluish-purple, setting up warm and cool colors to battle for the eye’s attention. While the colors are dramatic, the drop-cloth canvases the duo favors pulls the paint into the fabric, which somewhat dulls the intensity of the paint and sets the stage for the emotional stories that take place.
The advent of an emotional component marks a new direction and maturity to the duo’s work. The dynamic between characters is purposefully vague; the viewer is left to their own devices to determine what is occurring. While the emotional content can be seen as wide-ranging, their control of paint feels tightly scripted. There are glimpses of frenzied energy that are a hallmark of their collaboration, but here one gets a sense that they are making the paint bend to their will rather than allowing the paint to lead them along. The work still displays a sense of heady exuberance, but that energy is now more controlled as the painters turn their attentions inward to a more psychological realm.
Model Compositions (conjunction of the Figure) runs through July 1, 2018 at the Foundry Gallery. For more information, visit the gallery’s website here.
Banner image: He Will Live in the Background (detail); Duly Noted Painters (Ceppetelli/Malone). Photo for East City Art by Eric Hope.