Home can be a dream for some and a nightmare for others. It is the past we come from and the future we aspire to. But inevitably it’s where we are, the earth we stand, work, and rest on in the present.
Gagosian presents Lover, Lover, Lover, an exhibition of new paintings by Dan Colen from the Mother and Woodworker series. All the paintings belong to the final group of his Disney-inspired canvases, which he initiated with the Candle series in 2003. Also included are three sculptures by Sy Colen, the artist’s father.
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Borrowing its title from a song written by Leonard Cohen on a visit to his ancestral homeland of Israel during the Yom Kippur War, Lover, Lover, Lover employs the aesthetics of Disney animation to reflect on the many “lovers”—god, birthplace, friend, father, mother, spouse, and child—that we have, lose, and move between. Colen, who is also Jewish, relocated briefly with his family to Israel when he was five years old, an experience that shaped his idea of home in all its charged complexity. Lover, Lover, Lover, which was conceived of during another pivotal moment in the artist’s life, explores this perception in concert with ideas of tradition, influence, and the always-fraught American dream.
The Mother paintings, which Colen began in 2009, are based on scenes from the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp (1955) and reflect a concern with the places that shape our lives. They propose various sites as potential manifestations of “home,” exploring a spectrum between freedom and bondage. In this series, Colen incorporates the theme of influence by “quoting” brush marks from a broad range of historical movements including, but not limited to, Photorealism, German Romanticism, and American Spiritualism. The images present moments from a journey toward a hinted-at promised land, conjuring feelings of uncertainty, but also of hope. For Colen, Disney’s creations manufacture an idealized backdrop to our shared desire while operating in the context of power and control; the series explores our collective need for a secure existence—and the reality that many will never attain it.
In the Woodworker paintings, begun this year, Colen employs imagery from Disney’s Pinocchio (1940), building a more literal connection to his own family—specifically his father—and establishing a meta-narrative within the exhibition. The new works depict details of the old wood-carver Geppetto’s studio, alluding to the moment at which materials become autonomous from their user. Woodworker (Musical Boxes) (2022), which pictures an assortment of figurines crowding the puppeteer’s workspace, alludes to the artist’s output; Woodworker (Book) (2022), which focuses on a thick leather-bound tome surrounded by other books and objects, gestures toward the process of research. In the relatively spare Woodworker (Chisel) (2022), Geppetto’s chisels and paint containers are confined to the margins of the composition, leaving a central area clear and charged with creative potential.
Both the Woodworker and Mother series thematize the way in which familial relations mirror the notion of creative influence, and the inclusion in the exhibition of three sculptures by Colen’s father—a self-taught wood-carver—underscores this idea. One of these portrays Dan Colen’s grandfather; another represents his mother while pregnant with him, bringing the project full circle.
While Lover, Lover, Lover focuses on Colen’s painting practice, the artist also continues to work on Sky High Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, which he founded in 2011 as an extension of his studio practice. Now operating as a 501(c)(3) organization, the farm grows and raises nutrient-dense produce and proteins for donation to marginalized communities and is committed to creating pathways toward food sovereignty. Coinciding with the opening of Lover, Lover, Lover, Sky High Farm will host a symposium at the Judd Foundation on September 17, 2022. The series of talks will focus on nontraditional art practices and artist-run organizations, land access, and community empowerment. Additional details and registration information are forthcoming.
Dan Colen, Lover, Lover, Lover, 2022. Courtesy of Demo Gallery. Copyright The Artist