Nina Johnson is proud to present Patter, an exhibition of new paintings by James English Leary, opening on March 4th and on view through April 10th, 2021. Using shaped panels, Leary puckishly probes the humor, anxiety, joys, and constraints of life in a human body.
The surprising forms in Patter oscillate between many states: amused, self-conscious, self-righteous. Inspired by the works of Philip Guston, Ivan Albright, Elizabeth Murray, and Albert Mertz, they offer an opportunity to consider the craft and cunning of painting.
“My paintings are about how awkward it is to have a body,” says James English Leary. In his head paintings, the panel takes the shape of a face in profile’s silhouette; instead of rigid, rectangular edges, Leary presents the curve of a nose, the dip between lower lip and chin, or the flip of a ponytail. Like shadows, the faces have no features, just color. Ultramarine and cadmium create fields of hues defined only by Leary’s brushstrokes, variably visible. Leary then introduces another body that complicates the otherwise serene profiles.
Hands in contrasting colors—red on blue or blue on red—float into the frame producing a thorny layering of body on body. Nothing fits perfectly. In Cameo (Horns), the silhouette’s chin snips into the thumb of a blue hand making the sign of the horns. In Cameo (Offering), the crop becomes more sinister as the head’s ponytail cuts over halfway into the wrist of a hand holding a small, egg-shaped head in the center of a woman’s silhouette. This corporeal damage, both violent and mundane, conveys a claustrophobic feeling of bodies misaligned.
Leary’s pointing finger series illustrate the cloistered sense of social paranoia to a great, and yet more humorous extent. Paintings shaped like a floating hand with one index finger pointing outward layer with a startled face in profile nestled into the base of the palm. High contrast shadows lend a noir, j’accuse sensibility. Leary explains that the paintings combine the drama of generalized shock with a more playful engagement with the experience of viewing art. “Pay attention to this” the paintings seem to say, yet don’t reveal what this is.