Brian Calvin 'End of Messages' @ Le Consortium, Dijon

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Brian Calvin 'End of Messages' @ Le Consortium, Dijon

Postby CAP » Wed Sep 30, 2015 12:22 pm

I’m recommending this one pretty much on the strength of one JPG – and a pretty crappy ‘installation view’ at that. I blame the gallery. The show just closed at Le Consortium in Dijon, a respectable provincial venue covering music as well as fine art, picking up its share of second-tier trendies like Joe Bradley to balance against a clutch of Euro tyros. Meh – it’s respectable, but hardly exciting. Anyway, showing surprising persistence since emerging in the early noughties with a stripped-down style that stakes out the unpromising territory between Alex Katz and anime, the Californian Calvin has branched out a little here, not before time.

A glance at the artist’s bio shows him to be a little older than one might have supposed, at 46, and continuing to circulate through Foxx in L.A., Kern in NYC and Corvi-Mora, London, without really taking the mugging sentimentality and lame-on-lameness anywhere new, despite curator Anne Prentnieks’ urgings. Actually this was quite a big show, maybe 30 works, several rooms of works covering his signature heads with enormous glassy eyes and parted lips, minimal coastal landscapes and stiff musicians rehearsing, usually against emblematic backgrounds as well as some smaller, more casual sketches. Then there were these new things, for the equally persistent viewer. But hold that thought for a moment.

The real problem with Calvin’s work has been the touch, or lack thereof, something that peers quickly registered in about 2006. It’s a common failing with artists in the thrall of Katz, that they assume those big empty expanses can be just coloured in, or the peremptory drawing calls for slack execution. But they need to look a little harder at Katz. That lightness of touch is the result of considerable and crafty cultivation. Nothing about Katz is clumsy or crass. Being deadpan is not the same as zoning out. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Calvin, with his awkward drawing of hands, grinding gears to anatomy and cack modelling. It’s one thing to toy with the pathos of one’s subjects; it’s another to draw attention to one’s own failures. Someone like Karen Kilimnik can play the girly card there, but for a beach buoy like Brian, it only flags worrying foundations, a fading smiley on a ebbing tide.

And that’s pretty much why we haven’t heard a lot of him over the past ten years or so. I gather the artist is a bit of an insider in Los Angeles (a show last year at Kern’s featured a portrait of the artist with Matt Dillon and his wife, if I understand rightly) and it may be the artist is not as career-driven as many on the international circuit, can afford to take his time. Whatever the reason, he has eventually opened up the backgrounds to greater depth and shelved the Katz model for something less certain; that at least gives his brushwork room to move. It’s always fun to find mid-career artists making these kind of departures in their work – where they’re least expected, perhaps least appreciated. It may be Calvin enjoys privileges that allow him this licence while remaining discreetly in the loop, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t recognise them, if only for our own sake. ;)
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