LOS ANGELES, CA.- Gagosian
is presenting High Noon, an exhibition of Desert paintings by Dan Colen.
Colens early works were hyperrealistic paintings of lived-in interiorsa cluttered bathroom, a messy bedroom, a camping tentthat included supernatural or religious figures, including Jesus Christ, the ghost of his grandfather, and flying cartoon cherubim. Frustrated by what he perceived as a limited discourse surrounding photorealism, Colen shifted his focus to making paintings using unconventional mediachewing gum, trash, tar and feathers, soil, and metal studsas well as papier-mâché works, animatronic sculptures, lifelike nude self-portraits, and uncanny installations incorporating flags, sneakers, and handmade replicas of beer bottles and cigarette butts.
Over the last four years, Colen has returned to representational oil painting through more formalist investigations into the materiality of color and the objecthood of paint. Made alongside the Mother paintings (201718), which explore notions of safety and fear, and the Purgatory paintings (201718), which consider the sublime through abstract and cartoon references, the Desert paintings (201618) are lush yet schematic interpretations of stills from Chuck Joness animated shorts featuring Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. In the very first episode, Fast and Furry-ous (1949), Coyote attempts to trick the Road Runner by painting a trompe loeil tunnel on the side of a cliff. To Coyotes astonishment, the bird runs right through the tunnel without breaking stride, yet when he attempts hot pursuit, Coyote slams into the rockface, unable to enter the space of his own painting.
Eliminating the protagonists, Colen paints the tunnel from two different angles, as well as other scenes from the desert landscape in the cartoon. The paint is applied to the canvas with the bare minimum of oil, producing a variety of surfacesfrom matte to waxythat emphasize the fundamental physical qualities of the material. Though based on found images, the canvases veer toward hard-edge abstraction, juxtaposing earthy and artificial tones while contrasting flat planes with perspectival or volumetric details, such as craggy rock formations and expressionistic shrubs. The Great Silence (201618) shows the ochre earth and a gray-brown road leading into a striking triangular plane of chemical yellow; The Trap and The Reward (both 201618) pair shades of cobalt with rusty reds and fluorescent oranges; and The Mercenary (201618) offers a view of the ground alone, tufts of grass and a single green plant adding gestural moments to the otherwise geometric scene. To underscore the three-dimensionality of the paintings, Colen chose to extend each image around the sides of the canvases, evoking the lacquered sculptures of John McCracken.
Drawing inspiration from Brice Mardens smooth encaustic planes and the crisp yet organic delineations in Georgia OKeeffes biomorphic landscapes, the Desert Paintings merge art historical and spiritual allusions with popular art forms, such as cartoons, stage sets, and billboards. In effect, they not only attest to the centrality of painting in Colens oeuvre, but conversely also shed light on the themes of performance, trickery, and belief that course through the broader history of painting. It is no coincidence that he sets these questions within the landscape of the American West, where the sublime is freighted with more insidious intentions, like those of Wile E. Coyote towards the carefree and unsuspecting Road Runner.
A fully illustrated catalogue with a text by Douglas Fogle accompanies the exhibition.