ARTS & COLLECTIBLES
Almine Rech & Palazzo Cavanis presented Still,
Brian Calvin’s first solo exhibition in Venice.
PHOTOGRAPHY: BRIAN CALVIN & ALMINE RECH
Brian Calvin, Confluence, 2023 - Acrylic on linen
76.2 x 61 cm, 30 x 24 in / © Brian Calvin
Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech
Futile, bewildered, vaguely bored, the humanity Calvin presents us with is that of the TikTok generation approved by mirror-like glossy lips, clearly dominated by the excessive power of social
media, the imperative of the sele, and the dictatorship of lters. Noses like trunks on at skin tones, hallucinating pupils set in colored eye sockets with colorful make-up in geometric patterns, and transversal gazes that betray a rampant schizophrenia are the distinctive features of the female models that populate his surreal anthropological panorama. Calvin chooses the noble and ancient genre of the portrait as the plot of the path which, as Enrico Castelnuovo writes in his famous essay on portraiture, concentrates the maximum attention on the eyes, abnormally wide open. It is no coincidence that the “punctum” of Calvin’s painting, to quote Roland Barthes, is the
eye, mirror of the soul, and threshold of knowledge. A surreal and surrealist eye, an aesthetic and cognitive device that doubles, breaks down, and superimposes (following cubist tradition) in an attempt to frame movement, to understand the three dimensions by escaping the static nature of
the canvas and the reality of representation.
Brian Calvin, High Moon, 2023 - Acrylic on canvas 213.4 x 121.9 cm, 84 x 48 in Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech
Brian Calvin, Transactlantica, 2023 - Acrylic on canvas 213.4 x 142.2 cm, 84 x 56 in / © Brian Calvin Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech
About the Artist
Back in the 1990s, Brian Calvin began developing a figurative, non-narrative, pictorial style. Landscapes and portraits steeped in his Californian roots dominated this work. Close-up treatment of subjects, highly composed structures, as well as luminous colors laid flat endow these large-scale paintings with a strange temporality. In observing his technique of pictorial economy, one gradually comes to see a type of abstraction in his representation of certain details. They reveal, even greater still, the true finality of his work, reaffirming the primacy of a visual reflection on painting itself and its possibilities. “I prefer to experience abstraction through the creation and tending of images. Painting provides the medium.”
Portrait of Brian Calvin, 2022 Courtesy of Almine Rech - Photo: Studio Nowhere
Yet there is no psychological introspection in Calvin’s portraits, or rather the attempt to investigate the personality of the subjects is exhausted in the face by the flatness, superficiality, and indifference of his “fauna” from poolside cocktails and shopping malls. With sarcastic lightheartedness, the artist mixes the upper floors of art history and the “lower” ones of pop culture, the compositional grammar of Picasso — Moonlight Mile, Telemachus — with the vernacular traits of advertising — Transatlantic. Although it is a ruined, tragicomic, violated, and pierced representation, Calvin does not destroy the tradition of painting, founded on centuries of
efforts to master the codes of perspective, but rather engulfs it, metabolizes, and finally reworks it as a projection of the mystery of human desire.
The short circuit between the courtly matrix of the medium and Calvin’s minimal and playful style ultimately generates a joie de vivre in the viewer. These are images imprinted on the retina—images that look at us, Bredekamp would say— that settle in the memory and unconsciously resurface with a series of unsuspected parallels with the clear and soft atmospheres of Hopper’s America but also with the biting satire of Guston who, transgressing the diktat of abstraction in painting, considered the elements of American popular culture— advertising signs, garages, diners, sandwich shops, junk shops, garages—an imaginative
reservoir of aesthetic possibilities.