My Life is Perfect and I'm Always Happy
"My life is perfect and I’m always happy" claims Brooklyn-based Steven Charles in the title of his third solo exhibition at Pierogi. Looking at the excessively intricate, labor-intense, pop-colored canvases, one starts questioning if the phrase might indeed be meant literally rather than ironically. Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: Charles, who states that "the impetus for this work is my optimism," draws his audience into visual riddles that leave us cheering and confused.
In his recent paintings, Charles continues his process evolving around clearly defined rules and obsessive devotion. Without drafting preliminary sketches, he starts by pouring enamel paint directly onto the canvas. Following this almost performative improvisation, he commits to, as he puts it, "targeting" each shape. Filling in each with smaller color patches, he only leaves the outer edge of the coating underneath untouched. The repetitive dialogue between act and edit is completed when the final fill layer is as miniscule as the chosen brush allows. In other words, as soon as the first step has been taken, the composition takes Charles from there, transforming the act of painting into the interplay of physical experience and educational exercise.
As is the case in his previous work, most of the recent paintings resemble multi-layered topographical maps viewed from an aerial perspective. Think close-up pixellation on a TV screen. Within this context, each component becomes part of a smaller parcel while serving as cross-reference throughout the composition. In "noletosee," bright orange geometric structures that resemble highways, turquoise lakes, heavily outlined city clusters, differences in elevation and population can easily be read into the composition. The excessive amount of information provided signals futuristic density and hints at a slice of science fiction that feels equally enchanting and terrifying. Although structurally held together by the miniscule network of vibrant patterns, the compositions do not fail to make us dizzy, leaving us to wonder where Charles is going to take us next and how to expand the subject matter from there. Looking at the works exhibited, a suspicion rises that new roads have been scouted, but not yet been fully explored.
Amongst the varying tendencies, two dominant polarities can be found. There are works, such as the more intimately scaled "sikevi" in which the decorative quality inherent in Charles’s process, is vehemently pushed. On silver ground, the array of color splotches receives an underground glow. This metallic luminosity combined with thick layers of enamel paint that expand beyond the canvas and transform the edges into expressive ripples creates an inescapable sense of preciousness that usually seems to be reserved for ornate objects. Another direction plays with the increased incorporation of sculptural elements into the canvas. In "thunliisnowoli," sparkly hair ribbons spring from the paint bed while architecturally associative objects emerge from underneath. Part Alice in Wonderland<.i>, part outer space telescoping, the visual result rivals a confusing labyrinth in which the viewer struggles to find an overall visual focus. Here, the problem is not simply caused by an information overload, but rather by the lack of the artist’s leading hand and an underlying concept. While the dedication to a didactic technique has its advantages, it also has its obvious limitations as soon as the artist tries to re-explore and move beyond the already achieved. In this case, more work lies ahead and, considering Charles’s talent, a fascinating outcome would come as no surprise.
Charles Baxter’s Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of LiteratureBy Joseph Peschel
SEPT 2022 | Books
The hardest part of being a writer is learning how to survive the dark nights of the soul, Charles Baxter writes about halfway through his new book, Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature. This isnt Baxters first book about writing and the life of the writer as an artist.
Charles Gaines: Moving ChainsBy Zoë Hopkins
DEC 22–JAN 23 | ArtSeen
The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? This question lies at the heart of the majority opinion written by the US Chief Justice Taney in the Supreme Courts 1857 ruling on the Dred Scott v. Sandford Case. And on the shores of Governors Island Charles Gaines asks this question again.
Francine Tint: Life in ActionBy David Ebony
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
Mostly large canvases (up to 6 by 10 feet) painted within the past three years, in the midst of the pandemic, the works on view in Francine Tint: Life in Action appear as luminous and effervescent as any she has made. But within the parameters of the visual vocabulary she has established over decades, Tint reveals a highly nuanced range of emotional statesfrom exuberantly euphoric to introspectively pensive.
Dr. Charles SmithBy Andrew Paul Woolbright
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
Theres an enchantment one feels with Dr. Charles Smiths work. Whether it is the sheer expanse of his world building or the peculiar levity he has developed as an aesthetic, it can prove challenging to interpret his practice beyond the initial impact of its immersive charm.