The past year has provided very little opportunity for the flâneur in all of us to get its fix. Parks, cafes, and subways have seen a lot less of us and our active gazing. The topic of the gaze—the white gaze, imperial gaze, and male gaze—so often used to dissect the discordant relationship between the maker and the subject, is upended in MINT’s intimate exhibition, Jurell Cayetano, Gerald Lovell, Dianna Settles. Each of these three painters offer an unabashed look at themselves and their communities by welcoming the viewer into the exchange between the artist and the subject. Together, they simulate a pass down a street or stroll through the park, witnessing casual moments of living that feed the inner flâneur.
Turning the gaze inward and opting for simple observation of the mundane, brilliant moments are hyper emphasized by each artist in their own approach to painting. Jurell Cayetano employs what is the most photo realistic style of the three. His paintings seem to be created in “portrait mode,” taken right before the actual photo shoot. There is a well-lit, crispness to these works, often emulating the white light from a camera-ready halo light. The settings are stripped bare, aside from electronics on the floor in the corner, placing the one or two figures in a living room or bedroom with a blankly colored wall, resting on a sofa or bed, or standing alone in a living room. These subjects aren’t tense, instead they often seem lost in thought, transfixed on their phone or basking in the intimate magic of holding their birthday cake. Cayetano grabs hold of these effortless moments, suspending them outside of time and place, and there his subjects are given a world of their own.
What carries through from Cayetano’s work to Gerald Lovell’s is a soft, illuminating light, but perhaps it is a bright midday sunlight instead. Maybe this light is what has transformed Lovell’s subjects. Each body is rendered on the canvas with a thick application of oil paint, lifting the subject off the canvas and becoming dimensionally separate from the background. His subjects gaze back, and their bodies catch the ambient light in the room from every angle. The impasto body is hyper visible, in high relief, ratifying the existence of the subjects in this moment. The dimensionality given to each person is a more complete composition, one that can capture a body more fully in the memory of a moment past.
Titled like diary entries, Dianna Settles’ paintings further emphasize simple moments of solitude or communion through explicit place-making, leaving no detail out. People and places are specified, tattoos are mapped true to form, and each inanimate object is depicted exactly as it is, text and all. The mapping of space is often flattened too, like in Self-portrait after Elin Danielson-Gambogi’s ‘After Breakfast’. This work calls out to Matisse’s Harmony in Red, with striking similarity between the condensed table setting swirling full of patterns, the placement of a wooden chair, and an image on the wall much like a window. What I found most fascinating in Settles’ works is the use of pencil to further the details of each painting. Pencils are used to fill in windows, tattoos, shoes, or rocks scattered about the ground. The pencil picks up wood grain from the painted panels and begins to look like a texture or second skin, as if the ground itself hasn’t quite rendered correctly. Her utmost consideration for specific place-making is transformative, and we, the flâneur, are permitted into these intimate moments.
By emphasizing detail and controlling the tone of their settings, these three painters have a unique ability to process memory and transform simple moments into brief utopias. While Lovell and Cayetano lift their subjects into a realm of cool and quiet moments of the everyday, Settles vividly brings the viewer into the very kitchen where she sits or where her friends sunbathe. Each of their subjects are entangled in acts of self-care, empathy, or interconnectedness, calling for us to scrutinize the joy and relative meaning within our own lives.
Jurell Cayetano, Gerald Lovell, Dianna Settles is on view through April 17 at Mint in Atlanta, Ga.