Dominic Chambers: Soft Shadows
On ViewLehmann Maupin
February 3 – March 5, 2022
For his first solo exhibition with Lehmann Maupin, Soft Shadows, Dominic Chambers showcases four autobiographical life-sized paintings. The Yale MFA graduate, whose work explores color-field painting and historical literary narratives, told through the eyes and words of revered authors such as W. E. B. Dubois and James Baldwin, contemplates human psychology and inner transformations in his latest series. Deeply inspired by the famed psychologist Carl Jung, Chambers embarks on shadow work in his illustrative representations of rest and repose. Here, the artist breaks away from the style for which he has become known, most notably his color field paintings, homages to Josef Albers, Mark Rohthko, and Morris Louis, the former of which he developed an entire series of paintings after, entitled “After Albers”. In the series, Chambers explores the intimate narratives of his personal life. The St. Louis native has lived and worked from his studio in New Haven, Connecticut since 2019. It was during a period of COVID lockdown that Chambers began to embark on a journey of inner growth and begin the process of shadow work: deep reflection that the artist believes helped him uncover the inner workings of his subconscious, giving way to healing and internal growth. Chambers is a firm believer in the cathartic nature of art and its ability to heal. “This is my most sincere work. I feel most confident about it.”
For Chambers, these extended periods of soul-searching sought to bridge gaps between the conscious, waking reflections of self and the unconscious, shadow self. Enveloping the subterranean level gallery at Lehmann Maupin, Chambers brings viewers into the recesses of his mind through references to literature and spirituality. The show features three figurative works depicting characters in moments of reading, reflection, and vulnerability. The figures, commanding, restful, and introspective, resemble the artist himself. A gold hoop earring glistens from an ear of each figure, similar to those Chambers is often spotted wearing. A fourth and final painting, which Chambers states most accurately portrays him, depicts only a large desolate basketball court with a small suburban home in the far background. On an eerily quiet street, a small ray of light illuminates an upper window of the house. The house, Chambers reveals, is his sister’s, and it was there that he spent many of his formative years in St. Louis. Thrust into each painting are symbolic totems showcasing core themes that are more recently being explored in Chambers’s masterful practice: healing, inner transformations, and personal development. In Self-Summoning (shadow work) and Shadow Work (Chapters) (both 2022), both figures are engulfed in books. Restful poses show bodies in thoughtful contemplation, as Chambers gives the viewer a glimpse into life’s intimate and vulnerable moments.
Soft Shadows also reveals Chambers’s renderings of the African American pastoral. The subjects, which are depictions of the artist himself, as well as friends and family, also stand in as placeholders for broader interpretations of the ways Black people can see themselves in natural environments. In Chambers’s vivid paintings figures rest, read, and reflect in quiet peaceful settings straddling real and imaginary worlds. The bucolic landscapes are at once familiar and nostalgic, yet magical in their tonality. The rainbow-colored ghostly silhouettes in To encounter a shadow (2022) and Self-Summoning (shadow work) showcase Chambers’s connection to spirituality and self-actualization. A strong sense of vulnerability provides moments of respite and empathy for the viewer. Each figure intentionally turns their gaze and, in Shadow Work (Chapters), their entire body away from the viewer, beckoning a closer look. Shrouded in mystery, there is an openness to observation.
Chambers has gained much acclaim and notoriety in recent years for his use of color field painting that sits within art historical narratives, bringing his work into a critical canon. He's particularly drawn to literature and African American authors whose works challenge notions of race in America, while also describing the absurdity of experiencing the world through the lens of “Blackness” in a white society built on racism. A writer himself, Chambers imbues his paintings with visual depictions of literary works that have deeply impressed his consciousness. W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folks, stands out as a seminal work of literature that makes its way into Chambers’s new paintings, offering a way for Black people to see themselves represented outside of urban settings, states of danger, distress, or bodily harm.