Visceral and dynamic, the canvases of American graffiti artist and painter Barnaby Furnas ripple with a kinetic energy. Filling his paintings with evocative imagery, explosive movement and the near-omnipresent splatters of blood that has become one of his calling cards, Furnas has culled a reputation for his unique take on culture and history.
Now on view at Marianne Boesky in New York City, Furnas’s new show “If Wishes Were Fishes” continues that exploration of violence, particularly through the metaphor of the whale and its depiction in two classic literary tales: Jonah and the Whale, and Moby Dick.
Depicting the savage killing and harvesting of a whale as described in the classic Melville novel, Furnas fills his canvases with spouts and spatters of blood, evoking the brutal practice of carving up such a large beast. Rendered in jarring abstraction, his characters work with machine-like precision, bodies moving in flourishes of action that underlines that savage processes inherent in whaling.
In his other series on view, Furnas works with the religious iconography of Jonah’s consumption by the Whale from The Book of Jonah, moving from the belly of the whale through his passion and eventual acceptance of his mission. In these works, the whale is a backdrop for the story, a powerful, living stage on which the will of God is realized, contrasted with Melville’s images of the whale carved up to serve man’s purpose. Alongside these larger works, are a selection of graphite works, depicting similar scenes in a stark black and white contrast.
Exploring the relation of man to the sea through violence and legend, Furnas’s works are a striking re-evaluation of the literary canon, providing new perspectives on these classic tales, and exploring the interaction of violence and myth through a contemporary lens.
“If Wishes Were Fishes” is on view until January 9th, 2013.