East HamptonAB NY Gallery
Quentin Curry: A Brand New Day
July 28 – August 28, 2022
Fanciful and chromatic things are afoot in AB NY’s converted mechanics garage tucked behind the pristine boutiques and galleries of summery East Hampton. There are eight acrylic paintings, two small reliefs, and five free-standing sculptures representing the past two years of Sagaponack-based artist Quentin Curry’s production. The show forms a panoply of sun-washed surfside elements ranging from the artist’s trademark surfers to flitting birds and shimmering sunbursts, interspersed with vaguely visage-like abstractions that look like riffs on Carvel cakes. It all somehow works, and successfully conveys the artist’s ebullient engagement with the out-of-doors.
Curry’s earlier work, dating back to his first shows in the 2000s after studies at Bard College and the San Francisco Art Institute, represented an approach to figuration that at the time was against the grain. The world has caught up with him now that he is flittering between abstraction and representation. In shows in 2006 at Kantor/Feuer in Los Angeles (the city where AB Gallery first opened in 1994) and in 2007 at Stellan Holm in New York, Curry explored Americana and kitsch with a sharp brush or toxic spray paints applied in thick architectonic layers, as well as a predilection for sunlit effects. Views through shattered walls into nature are reminiscent of Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s remarkable marquetry painting series, “Foreclosed” of 2009-2010, with views through gaps in deteriorating walls in derelict houses near Las Vegas. Both artists seemed to light on vistas produced by destruction and disaster and as things unachievable, and both use atypical materials, fabrics and wood respectively. Curry’s subsequent painting/constructions of the past decade took on American pop culture and abstraction in grids through an innovative use of acrylic blended with materials forming a kind of aggregate and laying the pigment down using netting derived from fabrics as screens. The results were both additive and subtractive, and resulted in a substantially weighty surface that emphasized fabrication. But in the present work Curry steps into the light and immerses us in a world of surf culture and cosmic map-making, all with a new looseness of application, embrace of the unpainted canvas, and vivid and visible draftsmanship.
The surfers have a free-flowing form that is reminiscent of the comics work of Bill Sienkiewicz, whose work similarly transformed from realist-based cartoons to more expressive line and use of ink and coloration in 1980s classics such as Stray Toasters and Elektra: Assassin. Both artists gravitate towards varied techniques incorporating drips, sprays, hard drawing, effusive use of black, dry brushwork to reveal the weave of the canvas, and an electric use of blue. Smiling surfers sport spikey hair and mischievous grins, with some seen head-on and some in profile. The surfaces have the feeling of screen-printing absent the screen. The blue surfers stand rigid, firmly monumental, and unresolvedly drawn, like Jackson Pollock’s numerous totemic figures of the 1940s, vaguely militaristic sentinels featured in Pasiphaë and Guardians of the Secret (both 1943). Like Donatello’s vigilant St. George (1416-17) or Jack Kirby’s iconic images of the Sub-Mariner, Curry’s noble wave riders are rigidly vertical, but medieval pikes and halberds and Atlantean tridents have been replaced by surfboards, seen on edge with their fins visible at the bottom, like claws. The naked surfers’ skeletal shapes in vivid ultramarine bear details of musculature in neon strokes of aqua, red, orange, and yellow. Closer inspection reveals Pollockesque sprays of the same blue that dapple the negative upper space of the white canvases. They read as both gestural marks and suspended moisture, as if the surfers have just shaken their waterlogged heads. MARINE (2022) features a single posed figure, and ULTRA (2022) presents a pair of these otherworldly characters. The one on the left in ULTRA has a dangling penis, and the one in MARINE has a left leg that does not connect with his pelvis. Two more board-bearing surfers appear in RIP DOG (2022), but their bodies are painted with swathes of black paint applied very dryly across the canvas within a neon-turquoise outline. The figure at the left bears an impish grin and large circular eyes and seven spikes radiate haphazardly from his head, like the celestial chevrons that emanate from the crown of the Statue of Liberty. While Jean-Michel Basquiat and Peter Max seem to be at play, here, the manipulation of material is closer to the multimedia paintings and athletically applied verve of Robert Nava’s work, a graffiti aesthetic in regularized form.
There are demarcations at the bottoms of the canvases like RIP DOG or also at the top, as in BAY TO OCEAN (2022) where great and stalactite shapes like hovering spaceships drift through a creamsicle and black morass bordered at top and bottom by shorelines and scuffed white and blue and green seas. The shapes between seem piscine, a variety of aquatic marine fauna. It did not surprise me to learn that this picture is an imaginary map of the south fork of Long Island. Similarly, WORM HOLE (2022) resembles early Mark Rothko, in his Surrealist phase, such as Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea (1944), with a lower section of earthy ground and a pink and blue background fronted by shapes that at times resolve into faces, as in the yellow form, or more galactic, Starry Night-like heavenly bodies.
The abstractions in their repeated centrifugal forms seem a combination of the “bursts” of the Abstract Expressionist work of Adolph Gottlieb (and that movement never seems far from the work of any artist delving into abstraction on Long Island’s East End) and the layered forms of Albert Oehlen. Some recall earlier work and are made with an admixture of sand and acrylic, as in STEAL YOUR FACE (2022), with its textured surface that simultaneously appears both thickly woven and like badly mixed mac and cheese sauce—in its color, too. But it gives the painting a sense of objecthood, even as the blotchy forms semi-resolve into a too cutesy face. Better are pictures such as SUBLIME (BLUE) (2021), a 7-foot-tall, narrow work that cheekily plays with both the tired tradition of generic decorative color abstractions that decorate white walls of grand houses throughout the Hamptons, and the elegance of the best of Ab Ex color field painting and its descendants, here without a textured surface. Small tabletop copper and brass sculptures such as KISSING FISH (2022) and BRAND NEW DAY (2021) delight, with their planar tableaus of manipulated forms and curlicue elements that resemble the geometric designs that fill the forms in Gustav Klimt’s work, now come to three-dimensional life. These under two-foot-wide secessionist takes on imaginative East End scenery, with their smooching love-fish and brilliant suns on bases that resemble gold bars have a resolution lacking in the paintings, but a similar sense of giddy humor and hopefulness that runs through Curry’s recent work.