THAT’S NOT IT
On ViewJack Shainman Gallery
May 17 – June 23, 2018
Over the past decade, Brooklyn-based visual artist Geoffrey Chadsey has crafted a prolific body of work comprised of fictional portraits of ambiguously gendered subjects, rendered in astonishingly vivid detail, and exacted by obsessively precise colored-pencil and crayon strokes. A late spring solo exhibition at Jack Shainman’s West 24th Street location found this genre-bending artist in peak form. The exhibition THAT’S NOT IT could very well be construed as the summation of his magnum opus.
Chadsey filled the galleries with a series of large-scale drawings of front-facing human figures. While I have been aware of the artist’s work for several years now, I have primarily seen his smaller-scale works and studies. What struck me as particularly effective in this exhibition was the impactful scale of his large, enigmatic portraiture. Unobstructed by glass covers, the works were endowed with striking immediacy. The intimate, close-up view of the artist’s technique, applied to these nearly life-size subjects, alternately urged me to lean in and pull away, enhancing my appreciation not only of the richly layered content, but also his masterful craftsmanship.
Chadsey negotiates multiple surrealistic dimensions with facility, which imparts the works with an unsettling or downright-dangerous quality. While his subjects’ expressions tend to be droll, violence often lurks within, appearing at times in suggestive symbols and gestures. The figures in their entirety are coded in layers of meaning. For instance, one of the works depicts a subject with its hands holding a tote bag which holds a small wildcat; however, between the lapels of his unbuttoned jacket, a third (pussy-grabbing?) hand is seen reaching for the subject’s crotch. In another phantasmagorical work, the arms of a Chewbacca-like figure morph to form a variety of gestures: one pair of arms rests by its sides, another lifts a skull above its head, another pulls a gun from a fanny pack tied around its waist. A second figure wears a casual, green pussy bow blouse, while a second pair of military-fatigue-wearing arms—seemingly sprouting out of the creature’s shoulders—have its head in a chokehold. As the exhibition unfolds, other details emerge and compete for my attention—a red MAGA hat here, a black Uncle Sam figure with eyes blotted out by spray paint there—each acting as a signifier, or a trigger. The current political maelstrom is mirrored in Chadsey’s drawings; when violence is present, it appears as something one inflicts upon oneself, questioning the extent to which each one of us has a hand (pun intended) in it.
Chadsey presents his fictional protagonists boldly, as hybrid, poly-sexual chimeras. Their forms are equal parts solid and evanescent. In most of the drawings their features morph, vacillating between one gesture and another within the same frame. The subjects’ genders are ambiguous, and intentionally so. Certain details of clothing, accessories, body parts, and expressions are rendered in painstaking detail, while other elements are akin to an unfinished sketch. This technique is a deliberate choice on the artist’s part, one evoking the notion of selective memory; Chadsey draws his subjects in the same way in which human mind tends to remember things: details one deems significant are etched in one’s memory in vivid, HD Technicolor, while other bits fade away.
Chadsey’s drawings are compelling in their timeliness. I appreciate his work’s utter lack of pretense. His subjects wear their queerness on their sleeves. Fragments of popular culture and shards of political zeitgeist are embodied effortlessly in his uncanny protagonists, who simultaneously eschew both trendiness and preachiness: they do not ask for attention—they command it. As much as they present themselves nonchalantly, willingly participating in the act of being put on display, they remain equally inscrutable. Chadsey does not hammer an obvious interpretation into his viewers’ minds. Rather, he leaves ample room for us to make up our own about what’s on exhibit here.