Solomon Projects is currently exhibiting two new bodies of work by New York artists Holly Coulis and David Humphrey.
I asked Nancy Solomon, the gallery’s curator and owner, about her decision to exhibit the two artists’ work together. She explained that in addition to their formal similarities (a shared style that Solomon playfully referred to as “wacky representational painting”), both bodies of work were completed during and after recent prolonged stays in Italy. I was skeptical of that logic at first, but after spending some time in the gallery, I was pleased to discover that—whether by some latent Italian-ness or some discreetly shared formal style—there was something about the two series that allowed them to compliment each other in subtle and unexpected ways.
As we enter the gallery we see Coulis’s work, a series of small oil paintings of floral arrangements and traditional still lifes in a style that simultaneously brings to mind Cezanne, Matisse, and Alex Katz. They have an immediate beauty but don’t fully come to life until we get up close and really look. What stands out most is the use of color: Tiny hints of vibrant reds and blues peek out from the gaps in the wallpaper pattern in works like Oranges. And the subtle, perfectly measured tonal shifts in the shadows and turned edges of objects in Mandarins and Paintings are worth spending some time with. For Coulis, a good painting isn’t something that just happens, it’s something that’s built.
Humphrey, for his part, combines gestural mark making with a distinctive brand of cartoon-esque figuration to produce strange and colorful depictions of human fantasy, mortality, and desire.
Horace Walpole famously said that life “is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.” If that categorization holds true, then Humphrey is undoubtedly a thinking man (as his ties to Yale might suggest).
Despite the bizarre, mischievous, and dreamlike nature of Humphrey’s imagery, the works exude a kind of wry coolness. He’s like a psychiatrist with a sense of humor who renders in paint the absurdities and perversions of a vast, inane, and endlessly amusing human subconscious. In keeping with this assumed role, the execution of the paintings is absolutely clinical, flawless. Even in his expressive, gestural flourishes, Humphrey gives the impression of being in total control. Like Coulis, Humphrey’s work demonstrates that good painting does not happen spontaneously. Each step is as carefully calculated as it is executed.
In a town like Atlanta, where so much of the art scene is driven by an exciting, but all too often sloppy, youthful energy, it was refreshing to walk into Solomon Projects and realize that here the artists are in total control.
The two artists’ exhibitions continue at Solomon Projects through July 31.