Seth Becker, Bathers in a Storm, 2023, oil on panel, 9 × 12"
A caped dog flying through the air, a snarling tiger at a tenement window, a person conversing with a fish—Seth Becker’s small oils in “A Boy’s Head” are droll non-sequiturs often involving human/animal interactions. The spiritual progeny of the little Albert York paintings we love, their facture bespeaks an attempt not to “render,” but to allow the accumulation of tiny brushstrokes to magically form a representation which seems almost nostalgic for a time when painters still knew how to do that.
Each work is an intricate jewel, but when taken together, the thirty-one pieces on view offer complex ideas about how painting conveys meaning. What unites these disparate narratives? While there are many references to landscape, darkness, and weather, each one poses an unanswerable question about what is occurring and why—we feel we have intruded into a series of private stories. Many of Becker’s tableaux are set at night or within extreme climes, heightening their mystery. Take Watteau’s Skull (all works 2023), in which a nude woman reclines in a moonlit glade. A black dog crouches over her while the namesake object forlornly gazes at her from an uncovered hole in the ground. Bathers in a Storm renders an inlet within a vast verdant landscape where two naked couples of uncertain gender pause in their wading to notice encroaching thunderheads. Deep in the conceptual background of these pictures, one can sense that the idea of imagination in painting is being palpated. Though it might make sense that the photographic postcards of oddball vernacular imagery Becker collects play a leading role in the architecture of these compositions, the strange circumstances depicted—coupled with the artist’s spontaneous and idiosyncratic paint handling—create a dreamlike intimacy that urges us to believe they are completely fabricated on the spot, the way York’s landscapes feel. Yet they are not, so Becker makes us pay attention to the way he constructs that illusion of invention. And he makes us wonder, have we become nostalgic for imagination?
Article by Dennis Kardon
February 9, 2024
Venus Over Manhattan
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February 1, 2024 - March 9, 2024