Keegan Monaghan: You decide to take a walk at On Stellar Rays
July 7 to August 12, 2016
1 Rivington Street at Bowery
New York City, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Keegan Monaghan’s paintings city life is solid and luminous, forms are dreamy and rounded, and subjectivity is submerged into surfaces that sparkle with thick oil. On view during the heat wave of July and August, the artist’s debut commercial solo show at On Stellar Rays consisted of five canvases (all 2016) and one free-standing sculpture of painted wood, foam, and resin. Each work depicts a specific point-of-view: a movie theatre crowd; a police car at night; a stone façade framing a view into a domestic interior; a plate resting on a lap. A pleasurable structural integrity unites the series—all of the surfaces have a stuccolike quality and a dark violet atmosphere pops against touches of bright green, orangey pink, and rich indigo. The rectangle shape and scale of the work, roughly the dimensions of a subway station billboard, engage the viewer on a bodily level.
The paintings flash a vibrant density across a room, but as figurative scenes they are surprisingly complex. In Security grey monolithic stones frame a rusty-orange window that bears a resemblance to a picture frame. A metal grating over the window offers a bisected view into a pink living room. Monaghan might be suggesting a personal incarceration, but it is an appealingly goofy one—as if Peter Halley’s “cell paintings” of fluorescent grounds and hard-edged squares had been re-imagined with freshly optimistic eyes. The ubiquitous materials of the city, concrete and metal, are lovingly realized with bits of color built piecemeal like a 21st pointillism. The smallest detail of Security is a painting on the wall of the room, rendered in a few daubs and strokes. Perhaps this painting-in-a-painting is the real “security” here, and art can exist as a protective center within these industrial blocks we inhabit.
Another ambiguous urban message is conveyed in The Sign Post, a portrait of a police car that has the presence of a mascot in this series. The chunky cruiser is all round edges, caught in the warped space of an intersection that makes it the center of the universe. The street is empty of people with the exception of a pant leg walking out of the frame. It’s a Sesame Street moment that comes up against the loaded symbolism of the car. The vehicle’s red and blue glowing lights are reminiscent of Jane Dickson’s Night Driving series of cars on the road. Painted with oil on Astroturf, Dickson’s cars convey an elegant pathos connected to an expansive narrative about loneliness and American highway culture. In Monaghan’s world the car is a more benevolent form, a factual character like the other paintings’ plush furniture and houseplants.
Art is on view as the feature presentation in Thriller, a work that depicts a movie theatre audience raptly watching a rectangle screen of a pointing Philip Guston paw-hand. A slight nostalgia comes through in the rendering of the red, velvet-curtained space. The crowd might be packed into an Art Deco cinema palace, a nod to a time when the collective experience of looking at moving images was a dramatic event in itself. The exhibit has its own burst of drama when the fourth wall is broken by a life size sculpture of a purple desk holding a fabricated green lamp, newspaper, coffee mug, and donut. The piece looks beamed-in from the film noir cartoon Who Framed Roger Rabbit and stands as a touching intermediary between our world and the space of the paintings.
This vision of urban life moves into the fuzzy space of lived experience with the most visually nuanced work on view, My Place. The painting seems borne directly from the artist’s head with two round holes cut out of puffy orange brain matter that look outward onto a well-appointed living room. But the “brain” has it’s own living room too, replete with furniture, rug, and art. Is there no escape from the rooms of the self, and would we want to escape them even if we could? This puzzling Russian doll syndrome is the human condition, and it’s thrilling to see a young painter address it with formal mastery and playfully knotted humor.