Ryan Schneider One Dog Night
Priska C. Juschka Fine Art March 13 – April 26, 2008
Many artists keep a journal. Their entries can be loose, fertilizing other preoccupations in their lives away from public scrutiny. Yet the scenic tableaus of Ryan Schneider’s six paintings, packed as they are with furniture, domestic effects and other objects, read more as a disingenuous staging of the personal.
As self-mythologizing as they are self-effacing, the paintings feature a recurring male figure that I assume to be the artist himself, into whose life we are given a cursory look, like snapshots in a Facebook profile. In an outdoor scene titled “Hideout,” two men stand in snowy woods, smoking and drinking beer; a plainly picturesque snow-capped mountain looms behind them, calling to mind Hokusai’s 100 Views of Mount Fuji. White splatters on the purple-blue mountain act as snow and paint, a clever visual pun rather than a push for realism. On the large canvas we find jotted notes like “2012, 1997, Toyota Camry” scratched into the surface. Like whispers spoken in a noisy place, the sgraffito of the paint could create intimacy with the viewer, but its words remain encrypted and we are left to rely on our own narrative imagination. These scratches are the first indication of artistic guile, a manipulation of the intimacy of the medium.
Given the premise of the visual diary—pictures of the artist with friends and his presumed lover—Schneider vacillates in these works between abject style and sensitivity to the material. In “Hideout,” the artist figure stares directly at the audience, a self-awareness evident even when isolated in the middle of the secluded wood, while his friend looks sidelong into the distance. The fluorescent checkers and stripes of the men’s shirts double the thrift-store cool of these characters with the painterly play of pattern and color. Only the cotton-candy cloud of smoke seems to transcend the effort of manufacturing style, creating that moment of levity where the sensuality of the paint coincides with the literal object.
In his paintings of interiors, private space turns claustrophobic: heavy-laden, bright paint and competing sections of pattern. In a frontal depiction of the artist figure with his girlfriend, the couple appears engulfed by stuff. An aggressive accumulation of detail—two desks laden with rotten fruit, a gold chain on his bare chest as he holds out a credit card—charge the scene with domestic discord and decadence not enjoyed.
The interplay of sacrosanct clutter and void is best expressed in “On looker,” where the white of the snow seen from an outside window is set against the bright colors and objects of the interior. Cupping his hands over his eyes, a man peers blankly through a window toward a nude woman sitting on a chair, her hand over her mouth. Her gesture is ambiguous: she could be upset or overstuffed from eating. Her figure is oddly dematerialized by the outline of the back of her chair, which is drawn over the plasticity of her form like a dissection. The vacant stare of the man looking in, at eye level with the viewer, creates an uncomfortable confrontation between the artist’s staging of private life and the viewer’s feeling of being outside of it.
A paradox emerges from baring the minutia of one’s life: the more details are emptied into the picture, the less the viewer can discern the relationship of the artist to his subject. The picture frames, blooming flowers or plants, food, and open books sprinkling the scene transcend mere clutter, suggesting the sacred and superstitious territory of the private. Even in “Clubhouse Burden” a painting of a tree house devoid of human actors (there’s a black cat and no one to be seen) Schneider’s title and personal talismans like books and candles depict an obscure ritual.
Yet it’s as though we onlookers have found a journal and cannot pore over its juicy details; an exhaustive display has won out over the nuances of suggestion (and this is also a matter of the large scale of the paintings). Thick, colorful paint can produce synasthesia or sensuality if intended, but even with luxurious amounts of paint the feeling of emptiness lingers.
For many, the days of keeping an unselfconscious diary might be gone with the onset of young adulthood. If Schneider’s works are supposed to present a colorful twist on human malaise, I prefer photojournalism. And with so many illusions of false intimacy to be found on the Internet, and encouraged by the Chelsea gallery scene, it’s the awareness of being viewed that defines these paintings before the paint itself.