Alan Loehle’s current show at Marcia Wood Gallery is a compelling look at two sides of an artist. The drawings—completed during a recent Guggenheim Fellowship in Rome—are bright and at times whimsical. The paintings, on the other hand, are a continuation of an older series and embody some of the gravitas and solidity one might expect from a series in oil. While both bodies of work are coherent in themselves, you would have had a hard time convincing me at first that they were by the same artist.
Loehle’s paintings form an interesting group: each canvas depicts an isolated figure, dominating its mostly empty ground, seen through a hallucinogenic, wavering lens. The images aren’t blurry, but shimmering, as if occupying a space of elemental light, shadow, and vapor.
Loehle’s paintings of large muscular dogs, raw meat, and a dwarf (a local man with achondroplasia) function as shadowy “others,” reflecting an inner psychology just under the surface. Obscured by paint or spatial position, each is familiar but distorted in relation to ourselves, occupying an area somewhere between the sublime and the uncanny.
But there’s none of that foreboding existentialism in Loehle’s drawings, which are according to the artist, “a conversation without limits,” broadly drawing subject matter from the whole world. Some of the marks are the same as in the paintings, but the effect is quite different. Instead of dwelling on atmosphere, each drawing is a raucous and colorful jumble—a push and pull of scribbled lines and open spaces calling to mind late De Kooning.
The drawings function in part as abstraction, but recognizable references from art history and antiquity continually come into view, no doubt reflecting the visual influence of Loehle’s recent fellowship. An image of the Capitoline Wolf dovetails nicely into the subjects of the paintings, as does a likeness of Pope Innocent X referencing Francis Bacon and Velázquez, two painters to whom Loehle certainly owes a debt.
The paintings, and their figures, occupy a specific thematic point that causes us to examine our physical existence. This is may be in keeping with the heavy history of painting in oil as the flagship of visual art. With all of the preparation and drying time, it better be big and important, not to mention suitable for framing. The drawings, however, function differently; their small size and inexpensive materials free up the imagination for lateral leaps, flights of fancy, and a practice concerned less with permanence than with immediacy and expression. There is no specific goal—just physical energy and action. In this way, Loehle’s two bodies of work are both sides of the same coin. And both are definitely worth a look.
Alan Loehle will deliver an artist talk on Sat. Jan. 31. “Metaphors and Symbols” continues at Marcia Wood Gallery through Feb. 14.