October 9 – November 8, 2015
Opening reception: Friday, October 9, 6:00 – 9:00 PM
Todd Bienvenu, Wrestlemania, 2015, Oil on canvas
84 by 96 inches
Life on Mars Gallery is proud to present Todd Bienvenu’s second solo exhibition at the gallery.
The show’s title references the Rolling Stones’ masterpiece Exile on Main Street. Bienvenu’s “sex, drugs and rock and roll” imagery has major traction in popular culture – his paintings were featured on the cover of Iron and Wine’s most recent album, and will be on the comedian Aziz Ansari’s show on Netflix. He has received critical acclaim, been in numerous group shows, and generated a tremendous following on social media.
Todd Bienvenu seems to be everywhere at the moment.
In a recent review in Hyperallergic, critic Thomas Micchelli referred to Bienvenu as, “the wild man of Bushwickian figurative Expressionism.” A glimpse into Bienvenu’s studio, though, reveals the rigor of his discipline: brushes cleaned and neatly stacked in coffee cans; oil paints thoughtfully arranged on a large glass painting table. The deliberation of his practice belies this image of a “wild man.” Take a closer look beyond a facile read of his paintings of strippers, wrestlers, boozers and brawlers, and one begins to get what he sees around him . . . and feels.
Painted in the middle of a New York winter, dark blues and greens form the palette of Staying in Bed. Bienvenu’s imagery turns to a man and woman, hunkering down under the covers in bed, together but alone, each involved in their own world of electronic outreach, each searching for a connection elsewhere. Hardly an intimate connection.
Over the summer his mood and palette lightened. In Adult Swim and SPF4, the imagery becomes more playful, turning his observational gaze to topless women sunning by the pool, reminiscent of a Hockney painting.
In Wrestlemania, Bienvenu recalls an interest of his youth. In this painting, we gain a greater insight into the depth of his work via art historical references. In the middle of a crowd at the center of a distant spectacle, there is a figure silhouetted in a rectangle. The brightly lit hallway and figure recalls Velasquez ‘s Las Meninas. As Hulk Hogan struggles to escape “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s arm bar, his upturned palm in the foreground beckons, while creating a formal diagonal compositional pull in the painting, from hand to turnbuckle to figure within the rectangle. This method gives a deeper visual path back into the painting, while creating a moment to pause among the crowd and mayhem. The space Bienvenu creates gives viewers an opportunity to consider the relationship between themselves, the painting, and the painter, who like the artist in Las Meninas is in the hallway.
In his most recent large-scale painting Tree House, Bienvenu recalls his childhood in the South. Here, as in Wrestlemania, he beautifully renders a tree, a tree that is both at the painting’s center and heart. The eye wanders across the negative and positive space created by leaves and sunlight piercing through them. Dappled light draws the viewer’s eye to a tree house, which bends and ultimately leads one back into a deep, pictorial, and quiet space; a perfect visual metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence.
In Bienvenu’s work, one finds a protagonist’s longing and sadness: a disconnected couple in bed; an easy summer day by the pool; a bustling crowd at a wrestling match; a childhood memory. Whether it be viewers, subjects in the painting, or the artist himself looking in from the outside, Bienvenu’s protagonists are always searching for their place.
In my view, by combining traditional formal painting concerns (composition, rendering, color, surface and form) with contemporary imagery (a wicked sense of humor, sarcasm, and his own personal experiences), Bienvenu embodies much of his generation’s ennui and paradox; their longing for truth, heroism, and the deeper meanings so difficult to find and explore in a fast-paced, consumer-driven, digital disinformation culture. This commitment to authentic individual expression, in the face of what seems to be omnipresent visual expression in virtual space, and realized in what Life on Mars Gallery recognizes as the most primal of handmade arts – the spiritual practice of painting – indicates that Todd Bienvenu is no longer just “the wild man”. Rather, he is an Exile on Bogart Street.
Michael David – Artistic Director/Curator
Todd Bienvenu – Installation of Exile on Bogart Street