Figurative, non-narrative, faces, eyes – open and closed, fingers. That is what Brian Calvin got us used to in his iconic paintings. The artist has a unique language that surely draws from popular culture but also from the history of painting, particularly portrait. Girls usually wearing makeup, vivid colored eyelids, well-outlined lips and hair accessories, static poses, just there, imposing their presence on the viewer. Unforgettable figures, hence iconic.
These artworks, which are not portraits and have no reference in reality, sum up a combination of influences – in the most recent history of art we can think about Alex Katz or Alice Neel, and we are also reminded of the descriptive Dutch bourgeois painting of the 17th century, but the references certainly go as far back as Fayum portraits. Popular culture has its weight when the pieces resemble a myriad of 90’s cartoons and we see in these paintings the poses and gazes of models in fashion advertisement. The figures cover the entire space of the canvases and some of the girls have slightly open mouths (a common image from the social media age – the selfie).
At Almine Rech Gallery, several of Calvin’s works occupy three spaces. In the first room we find a black and white drawing, a smoking lady in pink (Pinky), and a curious painting – a woman hiding her eyes with her hand (Gesture), painted on the occasion of Donald Trump’s election.
In the two separate spaces of the main room we find large rectangular and round canvases of frontal faces and profiles, a body without a face, an eye, and many fingers. However, the element of surprise in ‘States’ is a set of sculptures – two large chair-like geometric forms, which are in dialogue with other paintings on the exhibition. On Sitter (I), the painted head on the top of the chair relates and could be part of the torso behind it. Both three-dimensional forms are painted with feminine figures – stiff bodies, sitting with stiff hands over their legs, bring to mind Egyptian sculpture.
The positioning of the works in the gallery space establishes a communication between figures, leading the viewer’s eyes in specific directions. The work of Brian Calvin is also based on repetitions. These are presented on this show in a series of rhythms – the repetition of faces, eyes, mouths, profiles (even if on a round canvas), vertical fingers (not 5, but 6), and vertical hair brush strokes – that culminate in the stiff vertical sculptures.
Perhaps ‘States’ makes allusion to states of mind, but these are pure guesses when we look at these figures. They barely smile, although their mouths are ajar. Sometimes they have glazed eyes, directly facing the viewer or ignoring him in their profile views. We can only guess and read our own subjectivity in purely visual shapes of seemingly flat paint that becomes figure. All and all, even though there is a certain naiveté in the vivid colors and candid expressions, these figures stay in that imposed state of permanent stillness.