On view this month at Gagosian Gallery, artist Dan Colen returns with a new body of paintings that continue, and complete, a series of Disney-inspired pieces that he first began in 2003, as well as pair of sculptures by the artist’s father, Sy. Titled Lover, Lover, Lover, the show draws on the aesthetics of classic animation stills to reflect on the presence and absence of the many “lovers” that come and go over the course of one’s life. The show, conceived of during another pivotal moment in the artist’s life, explores this perception in concert with ideas of tradition, influence, and the always-fraught American dream.
One selection of works, the “Mother” paintings, are based on scenes from the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp (1955) and reflect a concern with the places that shape our lives. They propose various sites as potential manifestations of “home,” exploring a spectrum between freedom and bondage. In this series, Colen incorporates the theme of influence by “quoting” brush marks from a broad range of historical movements including, but not limited to, Photorealism, German Romanticism, and American Spiritualism.
The result, simultaneously foreign and strangely nostalgic, manage to convey complex experiences of location, memory and self, all while transposing familiar scenes through the artist’s subtle brushwork. These are images of a home that is simultaneously shared through the constructed localities of mass media, and yet always unattainable, separate from lived reality in the realm of the imaginary. Similarly, the “Woodworker” paintings borrow from Disney’s Pinocchio (1940), building a more literal connection to his own family—specifically his father—and establishing a meta-narrative within the exhibition. The new works depict details of the old wood-carver Geppetto’s studio, alluding to the moment at which materials become autonomous from their user. Woodworker (Musical Boxes) (2022), which pictures an assortment of figurines crowding the puppeteer’s workspace, alludes to the artist’s output; Woodworker (Book) (2022), which focuses on a thick leather-bound tome surrounded by other books and objects, gestures toward the process of research. In the relatively spare Woodworker (Chisel) (2022), Geppetto’s chisels and paint containers are confined to the margins of the composition, leaving a central area clear and charged with creative potential.
Both the “Woodworker” and “Mother” series thematize the way in which familial relations mirror the notion of creative influence, and the inclusion in the exhibition of two sculptures by Colen’s father—a self-taught wood-carver—underscores this idea. One of these portrays Dan Colen’s grandfather; another represents his mother while pregnant with him, bringing the project full circle.
The show closes October 22nd.
– D. Creahan
Dan Colen at Gagosian [Exhibition Site]