Wild Beasts at Champion Contemporary

An oasis of kicked-up color blooms in the Hill Country, focused in the Wild Beasts exhibition at Champion Contemporary. While New York City's museums have, of late, treated "painterly" and "young" as extreme opposites — the recently closed video-imbued exhibitions by Cory Arcangel (Pro Tools at the Whitney) and Ryan Trecartin (Any Ever at PS1) come to mind — some of the city's talent prove otherwise. After meeting Champion’s director Sonia Dutton this past March, Brooklyn-based painter Ryan Schneider (NAP #74) assembled a potent group of young artists reveling in color and canvas and undaunted by formalism. - Brian Fee, Austin Contributor

Shara Hughes | Simon, 2011, oil on canvas, 36" x 40"  Image courtesy the artist and Champion

If a from-life interior is a traditional signifier of realism, then Atlanta native Shara Hughes (NAP #58) adds her own dashes of sensorial creativity. Her latest body of work, Simon's purplish wood interior framing an effulgent outdoors, Simple Sunset's lamp spewing glitter in front of a rainbow-toned sunset, actuate even more acutely emotive reactions. As in: that's a sunset. Daniel Heidkamp typically paints from life, pairing surroundings with posed portraiture. He teases out unexpected color combinations, like how light and shadow affect skin tone, then adjusting the backgrounds with textural impasto accents. The major exception here, Who's That Swirl Part II, originates from an observational color pencil drawing of Heidkamp's wife and works like his oeuvre on steroids: the greenish wall (actually an impossibly varied color melange), the translucent patterned curtain, even her hair and robe glint and pulse kinetically, as her skin's sheen and the dry-brushed canvas in background play opposites.

Daniel Heidkamp | Who's That Swirl II, 2011, oil on wood panel, 24" x 30 in"   Image courtesy the artist and Champion

Schneider throws jeweled patterns over his newer compositions while maintaining the crispness of a Skittles-hued palette. Not to Sleep, Just Rest is incredible: cropping a nude female form into a wall-to-floor mosaic of acid-toned tiles and chevron drapes, mimicked in the tabby cat's coat. While Joshua Abelow's (NAP #84) ostensibly reductive "self-portraits" (graphic symbols, numerals and shapes painted on burlap) might seem at odds with their wildly vivacious kindred, the geometries in Hughes' multi-linear interiors and particularly in Schneider's patterned compositions are totally in play, along with Abelow's intriguing color combos. Ezra Johnson blends painterly styles, maneuvering from the realism of a logging community to almost pure abstraction within his stop-frame animation In The Time of Tall Statues. The liquid egg yolk sunlight piercing through conifers and the burbling, smeared-color river beyond a realistically rendered bird combine and contrast throughout.

Ryan Schneider | Not to Sleep, Just Rest, 2011 oil on canvas, 36" x 48"   Image courtesy the artist and Champion

Joshua Abelow | Self-Portrait, 2008, oil on linen, 24" x 18 in"   Image courtesy the artist and Champion

Ezra Johnson | still from In The Time of Tall Statues, 2007-9, stop-frame animation, edition 5 of 6.   Image courtesy the artist and Champion

This isn't Neo-Fauvism, if you consider that term proprietary to the anti-Surrealist group espoused by Cahiers d'Art in 1926. Yet in a way the name works: this quintet exemplify a loose-knit group unafraid of strong color pairings, obvious brushwork and valued realism. Their decidedly untrendy modus (particularly painting from life) finds them shirking the mainstream as Henri Matisse and others did over a century ago. To echo my allusion to "painterly" and "young" from before, both Ryan Trecartin and Cory Arcangel were among the 50 artists in Younger Than Jesus, the commencing exhibition from the New Museum's triennial series The Generational. Of this lot, only Johnson missed Younger Than Jesus's 1976 cutoff. Considering their respective outputs and future endeavors (Schneider's culled a group of New York painters for Pepin Moore Gallery's bi-coastal exhibition From Where You Just Arrived in late October, co-organized by LA-based artist Jonas Wood), we shall see more from these "wild beasts".

Wild Beasts is on view at Champion Contemporary until October 8.


Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film and live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).