Curated by artist Nina Chanel Abney, Punch, at Jeffrey Deitch in mid-city, beautifully assaults the viewer with color, exciting shapes, and vibrant figuration. The current exhibition is an expansion of one presented at Deitch’s New York outpost last year; here the focus is primarily on LA-based artists, thirty-three in all — contemporary artists creating figurative and abstract connections with culture, society, and humanity.
There is an intense and visceral quality to the show, which upon first entering the gallery shimmers and dances with forceful use of color. There is a filmic sense embodied in the works, perhaps not unexpected, given the skew toward our filmmaking city in this iteration of the exhibition. There is also an intense rush of visual information to take in, and a boldness in the palette and the images themselves. Viewers may find themselves circling the gallery repeatedly to find a starting point, as one image seems to flow into the next, each demanding one’s firm attention. The title of the exhibition tends to bring home the point: it is a visual and aesthetic punch to the soul.
Ranging from sculpture to mixed media to paintings, many of these works veer toward pop and others to abstract expressionism. Regardless, each is very much alive, very much an expression of our time and our place in the world, expressing the human form, social politics, social media, and a kind of alchemic, inchoate rush of magical color and shape.
The works examine a wide range of topics from sex to religion to celebrity to self-image; the artists are equally as varied as their subjects, with Abney herself among them. Along with their curator, the other exhibited artists include Trevor Andrew aka GucciGhost, Greg Breda, Amoako Boafo, Jordan Casteel, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Caitlin Cherry, Jeffrey Cheung, Theresa Chromati, Kenturah Davis, Danny Fox, Monica Kim Garza, Georgina Gratrix, Lauren Halsey, Lucia Hierro, February James, Khari Johnson-Ricks, Cheyenne Julien, Austin Lee, Jaime Muñoz, Narcissister, Robert Nava, Arcmanoro Niles, Matthew Palladino, Pat Phillips, Umar Rashid, Gabriella Sanchez, Koichi Sato, Tschabalala Self, Alake Shilling, Devan Shimoyama, David Shrobe, Henry Taylor.
Despite the range of subjects and artists, there is an overall sense of belonging together in the exhibition, the vibrancy of the images of themselves makes good use of the gallery’s white-walled space.
Abney’s own work looks at race and politics and sex, using dense images of shapes as well as figures in strongly graphic visuals. Her Junk Mail Scribble #2 (in slideshow below) is a richly packed dazzle of color and pattern stretched over a long rectangular canvas. The painting is clutter and creation with a main command running down it’s middle, the word “see.”
And see we do throughout the exhibition. The viewer is invited to see lives, colors, faces, forms, and symbols: a wide panorama of images, a look at individual worlds and points of view we may not otherwise have known.
Devan Shimoyama’s lush Roses Are Falling is also dense, both texturally and visually. Created with oils, color pencils, sequins, collage, jewelry, denim, and Flashe, the work is pure magical realism. It literally dances with light and color, as alive and surreal as the image itself, of a man seated under a tree surrounded by roses falling from the sky.
Equally impressive is Danny Fox’s Matisse-like acrylic le cauchemar (see slideshow), featuring a nude woman with a black cat on her lap and a blue bird out her window. The color palette, its shades of purple and green, the striking red chair, is astonishingly lovely.
Koichi Sato’s two works, Life for Fun and Co-Existence (slideshow), both acrylic on canvas, are mosaic-like in approach, with jungle-like green and blazing yellow lushness surrounding the human subjects. The diversity of Co-Existence include the Statue of Liberty’s head; in Life for Fun a toucan watches two women in towering headdresses, evoking the spirit of a Brazilian Carnival, all of them plumed.
The figurative works here are each strong: Greg Breda’s introspective acrylic image, Breadth…Width…Depth features a woman seated outdoors with a lush Birds of Paradise plant behind her. It is a rather blissful, peaceful look at what simply feels like a Southern California day. The LA-based artist paints on vellum.
A personal favorite, Jordan Casteel’s Her Turn (slideshow), is a simply wonderful image of a woman in an elaborate traditional African red dress and hat, back turned to us, seated on the subway. The mystery of who the woman is and the subtlety of an image of someone simply out of view in an Instagram world, is visually riveting. The title is a riddle of sorts: the woman is turning away, she is taking her turn at privacy in an increasingly public world, or she may be ready to begin a journey and embrace a bold new world. Perhaps all three.
Trevor Andrew aka GucciGhost gives us a spray paint and acrylic Western gun fighter (slideshow), an American myth come to life with guns blazing and red bandana flying, pushing off the canvas in motion. In another work, Mornin’ After, a cowboy caresses his lady as she prepares eggs in a pan. Both are iconic images given a fresh and bracingly subversive treatment.
February James gives us a series of watercolor and ink portraits, each unique, slightly distorted, and off-center: the human spirit embodied, in small works that depict black women and men. The accomplished Henry Taylor (slideshow) offers moody and intimate portraits that reflect a cultural zeitgeist.
Two monochrome works mixing oil paint with graphite and rubber stamped letters blur the line between figurative and abstract in Kenturah Davis’ work on kozo paper (slideshow), both are recognizably human forms, with other, ghostly images around them.
Moving away from the figurative, Lauren Halsey’s Slow But We Sho (Dedicated to the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association) offers a flag made from synthetic hair in red, black and green. Narcissister offers a series of works that utilize found art catalogs and porn magazines in a series of unsettling, surreal collages.
The wonderfully swirled mix of paint, glitter, and vinyl provides an almost psychedelic sensation in Theresa Chromati’s She’s Got the Juice (slideshow). The abstract work is a careful whirl of details.
In these and each of the works in the show, the images are packed with energy and emotion. There is something almost musical in nature within them; viewers may feel as if they can almost hear the soft falling of petals, the music costumed dancers are approaching, the purr of a cat, the maze of a city street.
Abney has shaped a strong exhibition filled with passionate narrative, and yet the cumulative take-away from it is one of questioning. Each story is unique, and there is no through-line per se. Instead, the exhibition is simply teaming with life, with figurative and abstract interpretations that may tackle today’s issues, hopes for a better future, loneliness, or offer a satire on society.
In short, it’s a rush, with many works that are purely exhilarating to see. Well worth taking a “punch” any time, the art grabs us by the gut and won’t let go.
Genie Davis is Los Angeles Art Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.