Taymour Grahne Projects presents Last Summer, a solo show by New York-based artist Kyle Coniglio.
Coniglio often thinks of his paintings as fictional tellings based on authentic experiences. Naturally, this leads viewers to search for clues in his paintings to understand Coniglio as an artist, as a painter. A good starting point, as the exhibition title suggests is Last Summer. The title talks about the particular kind of warming nostalgia from memories of the past, and also Coniglio’s time spent on Fire Island.
Fire Island which is parallel to the south shore of Long Island, New York, has long been a haven to LQBTQ+ visitors and residents alike. The island, a utopian-like place that is bountiful with queerdom, offers social freedoms that are less experienced in the outside heteronormative world. As an island that is secluded, there is the obvious physical distance that acts as a buffer – allowing one to drop their preconceptions at the shore. Coniglio goes on to reference The Wizard of Oz in Under the Rainbow: the famous quest to return home that situates its protagonist Dorothy in a technicolour world. There is the geographical distance of Fire Island, but also the materials that make up the island and speak to an alternate. Architecture is predominately made of wood, materials that heed and welcome the weight of a walking figure. This lends itself to strolling barefoot and the approving suggestion of further nudity. Various other architectural decisions such as paths and boardwalks integrate the inhabitants of the island into the landscape and thus the natural world.
The island provides a space to build a society around another set of values. There is the sexual context which is well documented, but Coniglio also places importance on friendship, and how it brings people together. Because of this queer framework in which interactions are less bounded by traditional notions – connections to each other are more fluid. In turn, feelings of the fevered nature come to the forefront such as rejection, insecurity, isolation and shame. It is within the context of expanded communal interactions that these challenging notions can be candidly embraced.
Orange, reds, blues, soft tans and even black –each portrait in the exhibition have different colours that are tied to a distinctive narrative. All the paintings together function to create a cast of characters and lexicon of emotional experiences. Characters wear briefs that are comfortably sculpted to their bodies, cut off shorts that are tailored around the waist to reveal lean legs, shirts that have been tied above the navel, or an epic combination: tote/beach/paint-brush bag that brings together queer, summer and artist modes of dress.
Coniglio’s own understanding of friendship on the island is based on artistic synergy. He visits each summer with a group of other creatives, making work side by side and exchanging ideas. This is reflected throughout the exhibition where painting and portraiture are referenced in most of the works. There is a blue ghost ready to capture one’s image on a polaroid camera. This is a particularly poignant notion as the transient ghost is trying to grasp something permanent through the appearing ink of the instantaneous polaroid. In The Fiction of My Affliction, a flesh toned protagonist clutches paintbrushes behind his back. The end of the brushes are sticking out and at first glance could be perceived as deadly arrows. The duality of this interpretation works within the greater composition in which the protagonist is being tempted by a red painted figure looming behind him. The pursuit for freedom, whether sexual or artistic is understood to be paved with devil like temptation – though our protagonist manages to stay removed from the corruption of the scarlet scene and demon like characters behind him.
Shy Guy, takes inspiration from Ad Reinhardt’s work. The muted nature of the colour is outwardly deceiving, with the painting appearing as a plain black rectangle when viewed from a distance. As one edges closes, the details come into sight and the painting reveals itself in full magnificence. Through the formal attribution of looking, the artist uses this mechanism to tell a story of shyness – presenting a figure that might not want to be seen and a longing for a generous, committed viewer to discover the character.
Coniglio says “We view memories through a coloured lens and with each retelling we slowly begin to exaggerate, embellish and dramatize recollections until they become idealised fiction, we call nostalgia”. The narrative of each piece in the exhibition is linked by this context of retelling, where colour and light are essential to Coniglio’s practice. From an aesthetic consideration, the illuminating, natural shining light of Fire Island, emboldens the artist’s – significant and introspective colour exploration. Perhaps the work with the biggest departure from the group is Sunflowers, which was painted on the island last summer and the only work created from observation. Coniglio attests to the painting “which acts as a bridge between my show and the reality it is based on”.
Kyle Coniglio has his MFA in painting from Yale University and a BFA from Montclair State University. He has been a fellow of the Queer Art Mentorship program in New York and an affiliated fellow at the American Academy in Rome. His work has been included in shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Berlin. Conilgio opens his solo exhibition with Taymour Grahne Projects, London, May 2022. Coniglio lives and works in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects, London