Marking his first solo exhibition with 303 Gallery, Rob Pruitt returns to New York with a body of new works assembled under the title These Are the Days of Our Lives. Serving as a fitting reflection on the passage of time, social memory and the tumultuous, unforeseen changes of the past two years as they have unfolded across political and public realms, the show makes for a unique and insightful look into Pruitt’s studio practice and ongoing body of work.
At the center of the show are a pair of calendar paintings, an outgrowth of a project begun in 2014 as daily marker drawings on Massimo Vignelli’s Stendig calendars, recording deadlines, appointments, shopping lists and inside jokes that the artist continued to embellish and trace over as time passed. Over time the project has evolved in content and style, from drawing directly on the paper calendar itself to, as in these latest works, silk-screening the calendar graphics onto canvas, to then be filled in with hand-painted images and texts. The paintings record the final years of the Trump presidency and the Biden victory, the emergence of Covid-19 pandemic, and personal events in the artist’s life throughout. Birthdays of celebrated, public figures occupy much space, tying daily life to a collective, cultural history. Tracing the conceptual art of artists like On Kawara, yet turning the mechanical process of time-keeping towards a more interior, personal bent, Pruitt makes the passage of time itself into an autobiographical event, yet one that finds many points of connection with the viewer.
Interspersed throughout this chronology are paintings from four other projects, appearing at the dates in which they came to be, beginning with the cut-out Mask paintings. Double-stacked canvases are sprayed with geometric patterns and gradient fields of color before Pruitt cuts out and slices facial features in the top canvas, revealing the contrasting patterns and colors of the canvas below. Made during the Covid-19 lockdown, the paintings are like masks over masks, hiding fears and projecting a delirious escape. In another section, one can view a series of new gradient paintings, based on photographs of the California desert taken by the artist at the end of 2020. Arranged in a grid to resemble a calendar, the work reflects on the dusk of the Trump era and beginning anew with Biden’s election. The show also returns his glittery Panda paintings, yet here assembles them into clusters of cartoonish poses, assembling them en masse as a sort of swirling collage of black and white figures.
The artist’s newest body of work, Home paintings, also take their cue from the accumulation of belongings. Reflecting upon his mother’s experience over the past two years with dementia and a related hoarding compulsion, Pruitt’s Home paintings stack brushstrokes like collected objects, piled up against gradient fields of space. The marks act as metaphors for hoarded items – in the service of nothing, they attest to a fear of loss in multiple forms: loss of control, loss of memory, and ultimately the loss of life.
Continuing his particular approach towards both the painted canvas and the inquiry into the art object, Pruitt’s new work is a fittingly colorful and expressive first outing with his new gallery.
The show closes October 30th.
– D. Creahan
Rob Pruitt at 303 Gallery [Exhibition Site]