On view this month at 303 Gallery, a body of new work by Rob Pruitt marks a continuation of the artist’s mining of the tension between comic renditions, heightened emotional states, and deep, rich engagements with the history of pop art, all centered around his latest series of Face paintings.
Pruitt first began making Face paintings in 2010, with the idea to convey human emotion using the most reductive, minimalist means possible. The first Face paintings were based on quick line drawings of faces transcribed over large, gradient fields of color. In a deliberate break from previous projects of Pruitt’s, such as the Panda paintings, the Face paintings spring directly from the artists mind and hand, with no reliance on found imagery. They are quick and dirty works, constructed at a quick pace and with a commitment to the traditions of drawing and sketching as both a mode in its own right, and a distinct emotional response to the construction of the work.
The color palettes of the Face paintings often stem from familiar cultural and psychological associations – red for anger, blue for depression. Other works in the series have more nuanced, personal associations. Gender and age, however, as conveyed through the line drawings, is always ambiguous. What is important to Pruitt is to convey distinct personality and emotion, not familiar, caricatured identity. No two Face paintings are the same size, and they are all titled with names, adding further to their individuality. In this new series, Pruitt employs aspects of cartoon drawing in the depiction of facial features. Contrasting colors are used to fill in shapes delineating hair, eyes and mouths, a development informed by Pruitt’s Cut-out Mask paintings made during the Covid lock-down. Cut-out like jack-o-lanterns, the Mask paintings employed dimensionality and pattern to create theatrical effects suggestive of puppetry. With the restrictions of their antecedents lifted, the new Face paintings take inspiration from current youth culture, in its extravagant embrace of color – hair in particular – and fluid expression of gender identity. The paintings are all titled with gender neutral names, reflective of the current cultural moment.
Taking the act of figuration as a point of abstraction in its own right, Pruitt’s work is a striking interrogation of the act of painting. The show closes July 29th.
– A. Rhinehardt
Robb Pruitt at 303 Gallery [Exhibition Site]