Roberts Projects presents paintings and sculptures by ten contemporary artists introducing critical questions and contemporary aesthetics. Evoking epoch-making art history, Amoako Boafo, Dominic Chambers, Daniel Crews-Chubb, Alexandre Diop, Lenz Geerk, Jeffrey Gibson, Wangari Mathenge, Betye Saar, Taylor White and Brenna Youngblood work through deeply personal experiences, rewriting personal and collective stories, and celebrating identity not simply as an imposed category, but as one actively defined. The juxtaposition of these artists brings into focus how they are creating their own legacy, interpreted through images of their making, in a complex present and unknown future.
Drawing loosely upon a tradition of contemporary mystical realism, Dominic Chambers (b.1993, St. Louis, MO; based in New Haven, CT) creates paintings that immediately reference literary narratives cited in books, various mythologies and Black history, both in its oral tradition and written account.
Chambers’ current practice is invested in exploring Black introspection, the Black body, and the construction of lived Black experiences, as seen through moments of quiet contemplation and meditation, reading, leisure, and camaraderie between friends. An avid reader since childhood, literature and the dialectics of language continues to play a major role in both his life and work. In his psychological figurative paintings, he builds a relationship between history, painting, and the imagination to center his respective ideas of where and how to find joy through respite, one that is both real and longed for.
Daniel Crews-Chubb (b.1984, Northampton, England; based in London, England) makes compelling works that employ a traditional expressionistic, painterly language amid a conceptual framework investigating the potency of the iconic image and the dramatic dynamism of historic and contemporary visual language. Contending with his primary influences of ethnographic art, ancient rituals, social media and Modernism’s artistic legacies, he creates organically progressive quasi-figurative paintings in series which rely on a group of constructed historic or mythic characters for the work’s narrative, but are primarily conduits for abstract mark-making, in what Matthew Collings has called “a musical abstraction of textures and contrasting positive and negative space." Crews-Chubb’s latest series offers a more expansive look into the universality of the familiar theme of couple pairings or couplings within social and critical contexts, while the ambiguity of the figures and their relationship cools the overall energy within the tableaux.
Lenz Geerk (b.1988 Basel, Switzerland; based in Dusseldorf, Germany) is a painter whose portraits, landscapes and still-lifes are portrayed in exceptional intensity and luminosity. Masterfully combining European painting traditions and references, Geerk creates deeply atmospheric works liberated from historical context.
He manipulates traditional techniques to bring distinct render through acrylic color, creating psychologically charged paintings that are removed from any specific time or place. Emphasizing his subjects in such a way as to draw out the hidden emotions of the human psyche, Geerk depicts people at the threshold of excitation and in the throes of exploration. With postures and gestures crafted through a fictionized lens of representation, Geerk imagines how a certain fragile moment—derived from neither model nor photograph—can instead be expressed through atmosphere and body language. The stripped-down, nearly-monochromatic palettes add to the aura of emotional tension, transporting the viewer into his otherworldly universe.
Amoako Boafo (b.1984 Accra, Ghana; based in Vienna, Austria and Accra, Ghana) has built a practice synthesizing the ways that art both reflects and perpetuates the power of representation. Exclusively portraying individuals from the Diaspora and beyond, Boafo invites a reflection on Black subjectivity, diversity and complexity. His portraits are notable for their bold colors and patterns, which celebrate his subjects, as a means to challenge representation that objectifies and dehumanizes Blackness. Boafo was the first artist-in-residence at the new Rubell Museum in Miami, FL, launched in 2019. The artist recently collaborated with Kim Jones, Dior Men’s creative director, for Dior’s Spring-Summer 2021 menswear season.
This September, Roberts Projects will present SINGULAR DUALITY: ME CAN MAKE WE, a solo exhibition by Amoako Boafo featuring new large-scale paintings that explore the tension of internal and external worlds, and of the complexities of shadow and light. Boafo’s second solo show with the gallery expands on his oeuvre, while introducing significant new themes. A fully illustrated first monograph surveying Amoako Boafo’s career to date is scheduled to be released by Roberts Projects in early 2022. The book will be distributed globally by Artbook D.A.P.
Drawing influence from popular music, fashion, literature, cultural and critical theory, and his own individual heritage, Jeffrey Gibson (b.1972, Colorado; based in Hudson, NY) recontextualizes the familiar to offer a succinct commentary on cultural hybridity and the assimilation of modernist artistic strategies within contemporary art. Gibson’s Cherokee and Choctaw lineage has imparted a recognizable aesthetic to his beaded works exploring narrative deconstructions of both image and language as transmitted through figuration.
Known for his re-appropriation of both found and commercial commodities—ranging from song lyrics to the literal objecthood of punching bags—repurposed through Minimalist and post-Minimalist aesthetics, speaks to the revisionist history of Modernist forms and techniques. His sculptures and paintings seamlessly coalesce traditional Native American craft with contemporary cultural production and references, forming works that speak to the experience of an individual subjectivity within the larger narrative defining contemporary globalization.
The main visual image from Gibson’s WARRIOR (2021) is from a commercially printed scarf from the artist’s personal collection of images, objects and documents that reflect different representations of Native and Indigenous people during the 19th and 20th centuries. Gibson utilizes these images into his work to interweave their symbolic considerations with philosophical theories, thereby transforming each visual’s aesthetic sensibilities conceptually.
The image itself—a profile view of a male Indigenous chief—is one that is meant to represent a vague spiritual character and iconic value. In effect, Gibson’s refusal of this narrow stereotype is a larger refusal of how Native people are, and have historically been, depicted. By appropriating these images, Gibson re-presents them in a new context that is of his own making, specifically through an aesthetic language developed over the past 20 years.
The word “warrior” itself is equally loaded, often associated with battle soldier, conflict or warfare. In this work, Gibson recontextualizes the language around “WARRIOR” by rebuilding the lines of artistic and political conversation through his use of letterforms.
Wangari Mathenge’s (b.1973, Nairobi, Kenya; based in Chicago, IL) work is dedicated to the investigation and incorporation of an integrated visual testimony of the oft-discounted black female experience within the context of existing simultaneously within two cultures; here, both traditional African society and the Diaspora.
This piece was commissioned specifically The New York Times Magazine (T) and focusing on themes of friendship. “As part of the diaspora, I’m interested in what can ease the sense of displacement. The figures here might long to step put into a different kind of world, but for now they sit in comfortable silence in a shared space they’ve created for themselves. Who are the people you feel safe with? Maybe you take them for granted, but they are actually really important.” - Wangari Mathenge, T Magazine.
Alexandre Diop (b.1995, Senegal; based in Vienna, Austria) is a Franco-Senegalese artist based in Vienna who is currently studying at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna under the tutelage of Daniel Richter. Diop builds his captivating artworks from a variety of found materials—commonly found in his everyday surroundings akin to the Italian arte povera movement—including metal, wood, textile, latex, paper, animal fibers, burned fragments, gouache, glue, oil, pencil, pastel, leather, rope, varnish, nails, plaster, old car parts, rust, books, and photographs. The effect is not unlike the work of Noah Purifoy or Louis Nevelson, in that Diop transforms found materials into a unified and harmonious assemblage.
Brenna Youngblood (b. Riverside, CA; based in Los Angeles, CA) is often classified as an assemblage artist among the ranks of Noah Purifoy, George Herms, John Outterbridge and Betye Saar, though Youngblood’s practice defies one specific categorization. Her ability to strip the art-historical canon of assemblage of any ambiguity further bolsters her dedicated practice of collecting society’s discarded fragments to spin them into highly charged cultural critique.
Originally trained as a photographer, Brenna Youngblood borrows photomontage and collage techniques to build the surfaces of her paintings to address the aesthetics and politics of abstraction. Additionally, Youngblood acknowledges the tradition of assemblage in her use of these objects “to make something new out of something old.” Later pieces show her version of abstraction with a slight nod to reality in painterly, gestural work, grounded by architectural and social cues and referred to her as “landscapes.” Her work, at times, deals with political subjects and social issues as she explores Black American identity and representation, referencing historical moments in Black history.
In I (2011), Youngblood uses a found piano bench as a pedestal-like structure to uphold a large-scale wooden “I” shaped sculpture. Both the imposing height and the precarious placement of the sculpture on the bench imparts an anthropomorphic sensibility to an absurd-looking object, as does the use of the pronoun “I” to refer to oneself. In I, (2011) Youngblood addresses ideas surrounding identity and representation, as “these objects highlight the constructedness of identity. They bring together the singular and the intersectional embodied in the individual and in the symbolic identifiers that wed the multiplicity of identities to the individual through language. Names are powerful tools in communicating identity and family history, engendering meaning and providing context. Changing one’s name, aligning it with another name, or reimagining oneself down to the letter modifies meaning by creating tension and humor through a sort of iconography.”
As one of the artists who ushered in the development of Assemblage art, Betye Saar’s (b.1926, Los Angeles; based in Los Angeles, CA) practice reflects on African American identity, spirituality and the connectedness between different cultures. Her symbolically rich body of work has evolved over time to demonstrate the environmental, cultural, political, racial, technological, economic, and historical context in which it exists.
“The Secret Heart (1987) is the name of one of my pieces. It’s also my inside persona. I am this college educated Africa-American woman. I grew up in a middle class bourgeois family. At the same time there is a pagan aspect of me that’s attracted to rituals, to art and artifacts that come from certain rituals. I would say that The Secret Heart (1987) is a longing for another culture, an ancestral memory or some sort of spiritual connection between where I am now and my ancient ancestors.” — Betye Saar, The Secret Heart Catalogue, Fresno Art Museum, 1987
A meditation on the intersection between personal and technological magic, Betye Saar’s Mojo Eyes (Spirit Door) (1992), a mixed-media assemblage composed of a wooden screen door, metal coils and painted elements, was inspired by the artist’s exploration of contemporary mysticism.
Created five years after Mojotech (1987), a major work conceived when she was an artist in residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mojo Eyes incorporates similar themes and ideas, specifically the use of utilitarian debris reconfigured as sacred objects. The copper wires extending from the edges symbolize energy radiating off the physical borders of the work into the spiritual realm. The talismanic motif of the crossed eyes, taken from Ethiopian 18th century healing scrolls, have appeared in other important works, most notably The Divine Face (1970) and Indigo Illusions (1991). Long interested in interpreting symbolism and ideas through descriptive qualities of color, Saar painted each side monochromatically.
The work’s face is painted brilliant red for impassioned power. Pairs of eyes, rendered where one eye looks up to heaven and down to earth, are painted top to bottom in various configurations. On the verso the door is a deep blue—the color of voodoo, magic and the occult—and crowned with a pearlescent new moon. Saar has long used her work as a force for ritualized exchanges, rendering visible the previously unseen. This work is a stunning example of her artistic process as means to engage with a multiplicity of techniques, visuals and ideas.
Veve Doll with Red Necklace (2020) is a portrait on paper from Saar’s personal collection of Black dolls. Referencing the underrepresented history of Black dolls as seen through Saar’s artistic lens, the works on view distill several intersecting themes, imagery, and objects in Saar’s oeuvre, highlighting her prominent usage and reinvention of derogatory imagery.
Opening September 18th at Roberts Projects, Saar will present Black Doll Blues, a collection of new watercolors that showcase the artist’s experimentation with vivid colors, layered techniques, and new interest in flat shapes.
Taylor White’s (b.1978, San Diego, CA; based in Richmond, VA) art defies categorization, amalgamating abstraction, text, found objects, and clearly defined imagery—sometimes all within a single work. He utilizes a vast spectrum of potential media in his practice, ranging from spiral bindings, spray paint, and charcoal to incorporating inversed images of his own children’s drawings, which call into question entrenched notions of artistic ownership.
“The foundation of my practice is, and has long been rooted in two things: My interest in materials, and how humans look at paintings and objects (specifically the suggestibility of the looker). I'm often thinking about making paintings as a construction task, rather than "painting" a painting. How different types of materials appear in their unaltered states, and how they can be manipulated to play to their structural strengths and/or their inherent aesthetic properties often can set up a series of events in a painting that causes the entire thing to arrive in an unexpected place for me. Sometimes materials are being used as a substitute for paint in a painting, or as a method to defeat my instinct to paint something - for instance, I might attach a piece of plastic material that I know paint will not adhere to, as a means of blocking me from doing anything with paint in that specific region of a work. This is often a game I'm playing with myself, creating terrible problems that require some obtuse solution to be successful.
The suggestibility of the viewer of a painting is something that is very important to the logic of how space is organized in my work. Sometimes I'm blatantly directing the viewer to see things in a certain sequence, and other times my aim is to create total confusion - but confusion executed in a way that keeps the viewer anchored to the work, trying to solve a problem without any real resolution possible - sort of forcing the viewer into a locked and confusing room.
In my newest work, I'm focused on my recollection of distant life experiences. In some cases I rearrange them so that they're incoherent, partial truths, or extremely specific homages to influential teachers or influences in my life. Some of the works are bombastic and humorous, and some have a quietness and a sort of lethality built into them.” - Taylor White