Open: Tue-Sat 10am-6pm

1037 N. Sycamore Avenue, CA 90038, Los Angeles, United States
Open: Tue-Sat 10am-6pm


Rodney Graham: Paintings and Lightboxes

Lisson Gallery, Los Angeles

Fri 2 Feb 2024 to Sat 23 Mar 2024

1037 N. Sycamore Avenue, CA 90038 Rodney Graham: Paintings and Lightboxes

Tue-Sat 10am-6pm

Artist: Rodney Graham

Opening reception: Thursday 1 February, 6pm-8pm

For his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in two decades, Lisson Gallery presents a selection from two major bodies of work by Canadian pop conceptualist, Rodney Graham. It is also the gallery’s first show with him since the artist passed away in late 2022, looking specifically at some of the paintings and lightboxes he was working on in the last years of his life.

While these two-dimensional works flip between monumental, back-lit photographs and textured, abstract paintings, they also reference a plethora of Graham’s wider interests including filmmaking, literature, music, comedy and art history. The seemingly oppositional media of painting and lightbox photography are also united by the careful processes of staging and collaging together so many diverse elements and influences into singularly memorable and surreal images. Graham employed these twinned techniques of narrative- and world-building throughout his long and varied practice, whether devising one of his many fictional persona – through vast productions involving multiple props and elaborate sets – or while constructing new cubistic paintings from older examples, collaging these fragments and then committing them to canvas.

Graham’s painting career began in the early 2000s and the multiple layers of his recent compositions closely mirror the complex construction of the lightboxes, which originated in 2000. Starting from existing ‘source’ paintings – by Aleksandr Rodchenko, Jean Arp, Morris Louis, Pablo Picasso and many others – each painted surface is built up by manipulating, scaling and shifting these components into satisfying arrangements: “I want to find a balance between spontaneity and meticulous planning,” he said in a 2020 Financial Times interview. The painstakingly painted surfaces are not static or smooth, however, with faux woodgrain taken from hardware catalogues and sand-encrusted passages suggesting illusory shadows and depth beyond the flat picture plane.

The five lightboxes by Graham included in this show (from some 40 produced during his career) all share the shallow space of a painting: from a worker taking a break during a drywalling job, to another protagonist captured between takes on a Hollywood soundstage while filming a scene set in an 18th century French garden. These works form two of his Four Seasons, capturing a quartet of characters – always starring the artist himself – who are lost in thought, in moments of repose and at rest after work, here representing Winter and Spring respectively. Also inhabiting a narrow space between viewer and subject is the Tattooed Man on Balcony (2018), hovering on a typical mid-century veranda, staring wistfully into the distance. The textured backdrops, abstractly painted walls and colorful sprays of tree blossom provide other links back to the paintings, while Graham again complicates his role as author through the roleplaying and code-switching of his chameleon-like lightboxes.

Another connection between these scenes is Graham’s love of classic cinema. The French dandy in Actor/Director 1954 (2013) was inspired by the 1946 comedic version of an earlier silent film, Monsieur Beaucaire, featuring Bob Hope as Louis XIV’s heavily-coiffured barber. Graham’s final lightbox, titled Refraction Study after Jerry Lewis (Artists and Models, 1955) (2020) was made during COVID-19 and so necessitated a more low-fi approach to the habitual sets, lighting and image compilation employed in previous outings (many of them are constructed from thousands of photos, stitched together). This depicts Graham reenacting the slapstick antics of Jerry Lewis behind a water fountain in a waiting room, his nose stretched to Pinocchio-style dimensions through the glass. The original film, Artist and Models of 1955, is another Graham touchstone, being a fictional depiction of a struggling but debonair painter, played by Dean Martin, making his haphazard way through the world.

all images © the gallery and the artist(s)

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