Currently on view at Gagosian Gallery’s Beverly Hills location in Southern California. Dan Colen has pulled together a body of paintings that feel decidedly at home in a location so close to Hollywood. His show of new works, High Noon, is a striking interrogation of corporate image production, shared memories, and the cognitive effects of modern commercial communication, all pulled together by their use of a distinct style of background painting utilized heavily in the classic Wile E. Coyote cartoons of the Warner Brothers’ cartoon universe.
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 (2016–18) shows the ochre earth and a gray-brown road leading into a striking triangular plane of chemical yellow; The Trap and The Reward (both 2016–18) pair shades of cobalt with rusty reds and fluorescent oranges; and The Mercenary (2016–18) 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.
Any inveterate cartoon-watcher would find these works particularly familiar, their signature use of a pastel-heavy color palette and a certain style of rigid, carefully shaded linework immediately drawing the cartoon anti-hero’s futile efforts to catch the Roadrunner to mind. Colen’s work even recalls the classic first episode of the duo in Fast and Furry-ous (1949), in which Coyote attempts to trick the Road Runner by painting a trompe l’oeil tunnel on the side of a cliff. To Coyote’s 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.
It’s an intriguing point for Colen here, allowing the painting of a painting of a painting to emphasize the breakdown in understanding perception that occurs in the original cartoon. Colen’s interest in representational painting moves through a series of double operations here, functioning both as portraits of distinct artists’ styles in rendering space, recollections of shared memory, and equally as landscapes in their own right. The works dive into a space where each of these elements can mingle on the surface of the painting, and the implications of their style of depiction fill the work in turn with a sort of anxious energy, as if waiting for the aforementioned characters to come bounding across the screen, or straight through the canvas into the gallery itself.
The show ends December 15th.
— D. Creahan
Dan Colen at Gagosian [Exhibition Site]