Five Propositions features contributions by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Danielle Orchard, Naudline Pierre, Celeste Rapone and Tschabalala Self. The exhibition brings together an inspired selection of artworks focusing on artists deconstructing identity, appearance, and perspective through painting. The works on view – meditations, really – are variations on the theme of narrative portraiture: distinct yet interconnected experiences, derived from reclaimed spaces of power, desire and form.
This exhibition intentionally places one known image next to another in order to create new and unexpected meanings: stylized and idealized portraits of fictional lives; escapism; playful yet still mysterious acts. Portraiture wielded as a weapon. The artists’ use of figures, or avatars, some as stand-ins for the artists themselves, thwart the proprieties of presentation that have long held structured meaning within institutional spaces.
While the subjects frequently find themselves in unlikely company, the paintings are neither surreal nor are they an embrace of the subconscious, but rather glimpses into the day-to-day, of the moments saturated with opportunity; storytelling that is definitively political while pointedly ordinary. The exhibition brings together and expands upon each individually, while extending the reach of each work.
Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi (b. 1980) is a multi-form artist whose painting series, Heroes, depicts a diverse range of personalities. Nkosi’s choice of ordinary, lesser-known source images (and also some “ordinary” subjects) push back against the surface to suggest complexities beyond the traditional hero narrative.
With a confidently slick shorthand of early-20th-century figurative abbreviations wielded with a casual 21st-century élan, Danielle Orchard (b. 1985) revisits a time in art history in which the female figure was used to indicate hidden psychological positions among their mainly male painters.
Informed by her personal mythology, Naudline Pierre (b. 1989) creates intimate, otherworldly scenes that are part- landscapes, part-mythical portals. She uses the rich legacy of oil painting, combined with a highly chromatic palette, to immerse herself, and her personal history, into a complex visual language.
Referencing Dutch Golden Age painting, Cubism, Chicago Imagists, 1980’s Figuration, and an Italian Catholic North Jersey upbringing, Celeste Rapone’s (b. 1985) autobiographical portraits consider each of these histories as they express a commitment to mundane rituals.
Combining an array of patterned fabrics and painted canvas, Tschabalala Self (b. 1990) constructs the female form in vivid ways. The making substantiates the subject matter: by incorporating pieces of material from, prints, clothing, and paper, Self illustrates the countless influences, both past and present, that shape personal identity.Courtesy of the artists and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo Robert Wedemeyer