Greg Parma Smith: BALICE HERTLING & LEWIS
Wilson, Michael, Artforum International
It's not often that practitioners of academic figure painting are identified as a subculture, but when Greg Parma Smith used the term in relation to such artists in his exhibition "Life Drawings, Poseurs, and 'thirteen oil paintings on canvas,'" the classification didn't seem entirely off-the-wall. Juxtaposing nude studies with paintings that sample from comic strips, a handmade book of graffiti-style lettering and imagery, and a cartoonlike wall painting, Smith's show made a case for connecting stylistically divergent representations of the body to niche interests identified with particular historical moments. And by approaching one usage in the style of another, he aimed to explore ideas around public and private modes of expression.
In the life paintings (the titular "Poseurs," 2011), Smith's treatment of his subjects appears conventional. Young men and women are shown positioned in various ways against a succession of featureless backdrops: One sits on a folding chair; the others stand or sit on the floor. The five canvases are competent but bland, seemingly devoid of affect. But look closer and a rogue element emerges. The surface of each canvas is marked by a raised pattern of graphic symbols and line drawings, a kind of iconographic Braille. Stylized renderings of horses' heads, men wearing hats, and hands wielding pens are mixed with abstract squiggles in a loose arrangement that covers the painting without obscuring their primary subjects. In being naked, the subjects lack the usual markers of subcultural identity, but the bas-relief patterning adds a layer of information redolent of technology, suggesting that the digital mediation of one's image now impacts it more significantly than even clothing.
In "Life Drawings," 2010-, the inflected naturalism of "Poseurs" is exchanged for riffs on panels appropriated from a range of comic strips that trace the pleasures and pitfalls of modern love. …