Art & Artists by John Coyle SteinbrunnerAugust 12th, 2010
The Forever Party
I was at the Hard Rock Hotel last weekend as a precursor to Lollapalooza. The Hotel’s “Music Lounge” was more like two floors of free food, booze, and a maze of rooms hawking everything from sneakers to haircuts to Café Bustelo. A certain sort of animal order prevailed, with VIP lanyards outranking Guests, Staff and Media. (I was Media’s Guest, the lowest of the low.) The marketing was pervasive and relentless, overshadowed only by the mutual sidelong evaluations and out-right sizings-up by attendees. After a while I felt a little dizzy with it; the place felt unreal, detached from its parent event, a concert I hadn’t attended since I saw Pearl Jam in a rainstorm in ’92.
It reminded me of Keer Tanchak’s paintings. For the past several years Keer has been interpreting the fête galante paintings of Rococo giants like Watteau, Fragonard and Chardin. The “gallant party” of the 1800s placed contemporary aristocracy dancing, flirting and cavorting in lush, mythological parks evoking Arcadia and Elysium. The paintings are gorgeous and flagrantly self-indulgent. They are also masterworks of marketing, satisfying both the demands of private clients (“Put me in the painting”) and French Salon hierarchy (“Thou shalt hold history painting the highest endeavor”). These paintings were a brilliant conceptual compromise that brooked nothing when it came to the actual execution – they are marvelously rendered – and offer now a historical window into nascent bourgeoisie society.
Keer brings her modern sensibilities to the genre, punching a hole through that historical scrim to work up a modern relevance. She paints on aluminum with oils. Her brushwork is fresh, sketching in figures with quick gestural strokes over translucent washes of color. Her aluminum panels are irregular ovals and rectangles – a process she adopted to give her more flexibility with composition. (For more examples of painting on metal check out 14th century copper panels at Roger Brown, Mexican retablos or the work of British artist Gary Hume.) In her newest work, the grounds have grown from nebulous color washes to structures inspired by modern architecture. The figures have brought their modern ennui to our front door.
It can be hard not to assume Tanchak’s paintings are a wry commentary on modern navel-gazing during a war, a recession, a crumbling environment. It’s there – what artist can escape the influence of their world? – but these paintings stand up to scrutiny. They plunge into paint, composition and narrative, and they are disconcertingly, deceptively earnest. Tanchak understands irony, but she’s gleeful about the pageantry of the original paintings. Her work pushes these opposites: precious, candy-bright colors on hard, shiny metal; figures that tremble and dissolve into patterns; the wisp of a story snatched by an internal wind. Tanchak populates a spooky universe with eternal partygoers vaguely casting about for the gift bag. Her painting bridges the self-indulgence of their past and our present. Stare at them long enough and you’ll find yourself torn, asking, as Tanchak does, “Do we fight them or join them” … or both? Either way, it’s great people watching.
Shameless plug: Keer’s work will be on display in September at The Bluebird. Come join a discussion with the artist and myself at The Salon Series on September 12 & 19.
-John Coyle Steinbrunner
J.C. is a painter in Chicago. He also founded and hosts The Salon Series to bring audiences and creatives together over dinner for an evening of discussion. He prefers Mexican lagers, Gibson guitars and the window seat. More about his art and work can be found at www.jcsteinbrunner.com.