Jennifer Meanley paints people, often in pairs, who are situated within compressed compositions, either in tense domestic scenes or more lively outdoor settings. These figures, sometimes nude and often shown with glazed over eyes, seem unwittingly reliant on one another, entrenched in turmoil. Working with an earthy, pastel palette, Meanley pursues a scruffy approach to painting, building up a bumpy texture in a few key places, such as in the hands of the sole figure in Milk-Ersatz, spilt. Parts of Deep Space of Collapsible Futures break into brief instances of lyrical abstraction, while Taking Credit for Learning How to Sleep Deeply in the Afternoon Sun doesn’t waver from depicting the scene representationally. In the more vibrant outdoor scenes, lines of pink trace around hands and fingers, indicating a looser painting style than that of the tightly rendered interiors.
Taking Credit for Learning How to Sleep Deeply in the Afternoon Sun shows a male and female duo in an interior scene. The male figure, naked, reclines with his knees splayed open on a bench or small makeshift bed in the center of the painting. A woman sits on the floor near him, knees up, wide awake, wearing a collared top and possibly nothing else. Rendered in hues of deep midnight blue and a full range of chalky pastels, the checkered floor appears to recede in space due to forced perspective, propping the viewer up in a position to look down on the pair. A dog is shown outside an open door on the painting’s left side. Across from the open door, in the painting’s upper right corner, a circular mirror positioned high on the wall reflects the scene below, highlighting the voyeuristic perspective of the viewer peering in on an intimate scene. A snake is coiled surreptitiously in the bottom left corner.
In Milk-Ersatz, spilt, a lone female figure sits at a table topped with a snow globe, a bouquet of flowers, and a pair of tabletop figurines. One of these figurines holds its detached head as though putting on or taking off a hat. Beneath the table, a miniature cityscape almost suggests a different realm, but it could also be a Cubist take on an architectural model or doll house. Behind the main figure, lacy curtains top a darkened window. Stylistically, the painting favors early portraits by Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner before they tumbled deep down the ab-ex rabbit hole.
The largest painting in the exhibition—Cardinal Directions For Finding One’s Own Freedom, Or: The Interminable Surprise of a Rosy-Fingered Species—offers a stirring, lush alternative to Meanley’s tense interior scenes. Two pairs of intertwined figures writhe in awkward positions among flowers and foliage, perhaps out of embarrassment or coyness. A circular composition joins the figures in an almost cyclical pattern that links their bodies together with animals including a horse and a bird around a tangle of vines, flowers, and fabric. It’s not exactly paradise lost, but the image confers an almost mythic quality on its melancholy, anxious Adams and Eves.
Recurring objects and themes appear across Meanley’s paintings: a regal yet empty cat bed, harlequin patterned unitards, animals on the periphery, odd furniture, plants, shifts in perspective, full moons, lacy curtains painted with dabbed-on brushwork. In Taking Credit for Learning How to Sleep Deeply in the Afternoon Sun, the checkered floor suggests a game board with the figures, objects, and animals in the midst of an elaborate chess game that’s dragging on at a snail’s pace, with each move lamented over. The paintings included in Meanley’s Everything I Can Fit, in a Dream-Pod are, as the title suggests, packed with information. Through her obsessive attention to detail, nods to art history, and distinctive style, Meanley evokes scenarios that are equally dense and vivid, much like our most riveting dreams.
Jennifer Meanley’s solo exhibition Everything I Can Fit, in a Dream-Pod is on view at Oneoneone in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, through September 7.