Welcome to Alex Gardner’s first solo show in New York, “RomCom”, featuring fourteen new acrylic on linen paintings by the Long Beach-based artist. His entangled ink-black bodies are draped with dramatically folding white cotton separates and posed in pastel environments where the reflections of color produce subtle gradients and thoughtful tonal shifts.
The paintings indicate in gesture and pose a wordless “romantic comedy”. As in Mannerist paintings, they capture drama with their bodies through the distortion of torsion, a clump of muscle, a knobby knuckle, a languid wrist. Over-articulated fingers and feet contrast with completely smooth featureless faces; expression is only through body language. Gender is hinted at but as with the skin, clothes and environments, all cultural signifiers are smoothed over to de-individuate and universalize.
In these paintings the artist charges the familiar with poignancy, highlights the details as important, and paints figures that all genders and races could see themselves in. Mimicking snippets of classical painting—from an El Greco hand to a Pietà carry, a crucifixion foot, a Michelangelo muscle group—he is not just inserting his contemporary identity into art history, but also opening up these art historical perspectives for all viewers to connect with.
The body parts are not anatomically perfect and, as with the drapery, willfully fancified; signs the artist is not working from figure models or photographs but from his imagination augmented by emotion. The smooth gradient paint style of layered acrylics (illogical for figure painting as a genre) must be maddening to apply, painstaking to perfect. There may be chill pastels and casual-wear in these works, but the compositions scintillate with restrained emotion.
His titles try to ease the tension: “Forgot My Wallet” negates the intimacy depicted of one figure carrying the other, while “Picnic with a Future Ex” is glib. “Audition in the Frozen Food Section” emphasizes the performativity of romantic relationships as a theme, but the detached vibe doesn’t match the intense and dramatic works: as in the layers and layers of acrylic built up to form these precise gradients, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface.