Hyper-loaded with material and imagery that spans a range of cultural signifiers so often ascribed to the American cowboy as a standard of heterosexual, white heroism, painter Jonathan Lyndon Chase has opened a powerful new show at Company Gallery, titled Wind Rider. Rich subject matter and made all the more nuanced and powerful by the artist’s own experiences and history, the show is a fluid, charged affair, mixing memory and iconography into a series of pieces that open new lines of discourse and awareness.
The show’s double bind of queer personal history and queer histories of the American mythos span a range of interpretative concepts here. For example, the work Cum in (2020) sees a pair of saloon doors emblazoned with the words “slow dancing.” The sexual potency is echoed across a range of images that echo cruising culture, homosocial interaction and male desire, often posing characters in both urban and rustic motifs. Imagery clashes and surges, moving through a space of memory that involves both the personal and cultural. Works reference the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, a non-profit organization sponsoring black youths in North Philadelphia, where the artist grew up, with works showcasing bare-chested cowboys leading herds, charged with a deft visual potency. Chase seamlessly blends the external with internal, creating fluidity for viewers to move through both historical gesture and fantasy. In ethereal, yet enveloping American landscapes, the artist.
The works, mixing together a sense of recent past with images hard-coded into the American psyche, projects personal fantasies outwards, placing them among those of Hollywood, of comics, of pulp literature. These images are a willful reapproriation, a reworking of a familiar visual language in pursuit of a new space, one that acknowledges and welcomes black bodies, black histories, and black heroes.
By introducing these autobiographical symbols into historical imagery, Chase asks us to reconsider the canonical allegory of the cowboy and challenges the defining characteristics of American masculinity. Brightened with the visibility of beauty and desire, the cowboy figure morphs from a symbol of sovereign masculinity to one of intimacy and personal growth.
The show closes November 21st.
– D. Creahan
Jonathan Lyndon Chase: Wind Rider [Exhibition Site]