Lost and Found in Space
    Faris McReynolds @ Shaheen Modern and Contemporary

    TV programming has been leaking into outer space from Planet America for decades.
    Images from classic episodes of Kojak, Hawaii Five-0, The Love Boat, have had time
    to travel thirty light years and more, informing any intelligent life forms that may be out
    there of humanity’s aspirations and achievements. Even the late Anna Nicole’s 2002
    reality show has just about made it to Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor,
    by now.
    If you find this thought almost too discouraging to bear, imagine Faris McReynold’s
    watercolor studies instead. They’re based on archival stills from 1970’s programs like
    the Mod Squad, and it’s tempting to think of these blurred, blotchy scenes as the
    survivors of a journey toward the galactic core. At any rate, they look like they’ve
    been through a lot, and the process has definitely improved their intellectual

      There’s an endearing impressionist or post-impressionist quality about McReynold’s
    small-scale works at Shaheen, almost as if Eduard Vuillard had dashed them off while
    watching reruns. But of course the only reruns in Vuillard’s day were the repeating
    visual patterns of the early 20th century Parisian scene. McReynold’s subject matter
    (where it can be clearly discerned) is another matter entirely, taking us back to a kind
    of future-perfect tense of painting. His procedural loop revisits comic and dramatic
    events in a world that never actually existed. Somehow he triumphs over this inbred
    process, delivering truly engrossing scenarios based on the carefully choreographed
    tableaux of action dramas.

      Some of these are funny, like The Help, where McReynolds reproduces an
    anonymous, slapstick duel in an old-style Chinese laundry between an iron-wielding
    man clad in a black robe and skull cap, and a karate guy in a Santa suit. Sheets are
    stacked neatly on shelves in the background and another figure watches the action
    impassively, as the scene snaps in and out of focus in a masterly myopic haze of
    acrylic and gouache. Or there’s Red Boat, which shows a car awash up to its hubcaps
    in a shallow, rapidly flowing river. A highway bridge can be seen along the top of the
    frame; at once we recognize this little disaster as the culminating shot in a chase
    sequence, just as The Help cues memories of Peter Sellers and the comedy of his
    era. The car appears to be empty – nothing obstructs our view of the blue waters
    through its windows. Why is the scene so evocative of pathos and futility in general? It
    seems like a brilliant choice, somehow, but really, why isn’t it just stupid? McReynolds
    elicits a wide range of response, from annoyance to engagement, partly through his
    acute selection of images, and more generally by pushing our buttons (in one way or
    another TV is all about us, and it’s hard not to be ambivalent about it), but also
    because he allows himself a considerable range of stylistic reference. Red Boat, for
    instance, resembles folk art more than anything, though it’s hard to seriously pin any
    style on McReynolds – nothing sticks.

      Some observers consider the Dallas-born, Los Angeles-based artist who turns thirty
    this year to be one of the hottest younger artists on LA scene. He’s exhibited in solo
    shows in hip galleries in Tokyo and Berlin as well as LA and New York, often
    displaying large-scale paintings very different in technique and tone from those on
    view at Shaheen. If there’s any consistent theme in his work over the past few years it
    might be his interest in the psychology of space, and particularly interior space. One
    large 2002 acrylic and pencil work titled The Argument shown at Marvelli Gallery in
    New York, for example depicts an ultra-simple modernist interior. The room is bare of
    furniture except for a futon, but paintings slant down a long wall on the left. Everything
    is indicated in the lightest of lines and washes, but a jerky, fractal-ish red shape
    seems to be emerging from one of the paintings, moving, threateningly, toward the
    empty futon. Or from the same period his eight foot tall Untitled (Room) is quite a bit
    like a sanitized, screen-print-looking Vuillard, all wallpaper stripes and coverlet
    patterns. McReynolds paints a bed, and a chest of drawers, and two windows on the
    upper right, admitting two shafts of pale sunlight. It could be titled Stripes and Souls
    (except that would be too corny for this artist), as it seems to imagine the translation
    of ordinary things, speaking of eternity when we least expect it. His watercolor studies
    also sketch spiritual aspects of three dimensional space, but as meditations on the 3D
    illusions specific to the TV screen. There’s a fishbowl quality to McReynolds’ works at
    Shaheen that addresses the captive, untouchable nature of his source material.

      The title of the exhibit is Sight Unseen, meaning I guess that nobody ever really
    witnessed any of the scenes he paints. One of the things McReynolds attempts here
    is an exploration of the nature of memory. His watercolors seem like memories of a
    certain kind – indistinct, yet concerned with specific events. But we know that they’re
    not, that they’re based on a stockpile of pics gleaned from way too much TV. They’re
    not about the artist’s memories at all, at least not directly – but they are about our
    own. They call to mind whole genres of comedy and drama, bygone eras of half-
    assed cultural expression and repression that are no doubt part of who we are,
    integral to our mass mentality. Of particular interest and value here, as it seems to
    me, is the dignity that the artist’s process gives to them. In his hands these random
    scenes have a resonance and a quality of mystery that suggests nothing less than
    redemption. Perhaps that’s too grand or too loaded a word, but at a minimum these
    watercolors take cheesy passages from shopworn sources and make something
    beautiful; that’s a real achievement.

    There’s an internet outfit now that will beam your blog into outer space, for a price. I’m
    thinking that might be a good idea, if space-time can be counted on to warp and alter
    experience until it more nearly resembles something lovely. Or maybe, like
    McReynolds, we just need to travel far enough, and slow enough, into the space we
    already have.

    [Free Times 2/21/07]
Faris McReynolds