Brian Calvin at Palazzo Cavanis

May 19, 2023

EXHIBITION | Venice, Italy | Almine Rech presents Still, a solo exhibition of works by Brian Calvin at Palazzo Cavanis

Futile, bewildered, vaguely bored, the humanity Calvin presents us with is that of the TikTok generation approved by mirror-like glossy lips, clearly dominated by the excessive power of social media, the imperative of the selfie and the dictatorship of filters. Noses like trunks on flat skin tones, hallucinating pupils set in colored eye sockets with colorful make-up in geometric patterns and transversal gazes that betray a rampant schizophrenia are the distinctive features of the female models that populate his surreal anthropological panorama. Calvin chooses the noble and ancient genre of the portrait as the plot of the path which, as Enrico Castelnuovo writes in his famous essay on portraiture, concentrates the maximum attention on the eyes, abnormally wide open. It is no coincidence that the “punctum” of Calvin’s painting, to quote Roland Barthes, is the eye, mirror of the soul and threshold of knowledge. A surreal and surrealist eye, an aesthetic and cognitive device that doubles, breaks down and superimposes (following cubist tradition) in an attempt to frame movement, to understand the three dimensions by escaping the static nature of the canvas and the reality of representation.

Yet there is no psychological introspection in Calvin’s portraits, or rather the attempt to investigate the personality of the subjects is exhausted in the face by the flatness, superficiality, and indifference of his “fauna” from poolside cocktails and shopping malls. With sarcastic lightheartedness, the artist mixes the upper floors of art history and the “lower” ones of pop culture, the compositional grammar of Picasso — Moonlight Mile, Telemachus — with the vernacular traits of advertising — Transatlantic. Although it is a ruined, tragicomic, violated, and pierced representation, Calvin does not destroy the tradition of painting, founded on centuries of efforts to master the codes of perspective, but rather engulfs it, metabolizes and finally reworks it as a projection of the mystery of human desire.

The short circuit between the courtly matrix of the medium and Calvin’s minimal and playful style ultimately generates a joie de vivre in the viewer. These are images imprinted on the retina — images that look at us, Bredekamp would say — that settle in the memory and unconsciously resurface with a series of unsuspected parallels with the clear and soft atmospheres of Hopper’s America but also with the biting satire of Guston who, transgressing the diktat of abstraction in painting, considered the elements of American popular culture — advertising signs, garages, diners, sandwich shops, junk shops, garages — an imaginative reservoir of aesthetic possibilities.

— Mario Codognato

Brian Calvin: Still
May 19 — July 2, 2023