Losing in the Form of Darkness: Justin Liam O'Brien's Solo @ Monya Rowe Gallery
As previewed in our interview back in March, Justin Liam O'Brien's debut solo showcase is currently on display at Monya Rowe Gallery in New York, through January 4, 2020. Losing in the Form of Darkness urges, actually begs for empathy, feeling and connection in images where the artist reveals his most personal emotions, memories, and fantasies.
O'Brien presents harmonious figurative compositions of unidentified male characters engaged in moments of leisure, pleasure and passion, as well as loneliness and boredom. With blurred features and hooded eyes, solitary or entangled, O'Brien creates an ambiance of intimacy and solitude, casting the viewer as unsolicited voyeurs. Accented with suggestive light and a soft, glowing color palette, the appealing images become snapshots of life behind closed doors, as portrayed by charismatic characters.
Emotions range from pleasure to heartbreak, as O'Brien's alluring visual language and painterly technique draw attention before the Reveal. This duality of warm appearance and charged subject matter reflects the artist's relationship with perceived standards and norms of contemporary queer life. Inspired by "a culture where Grindr, dick-pics, and hook-up texts are a presumed part of the dating landscape," O'Brien's process starts with sketching and drawing harmonic, simple images of a moment. Selected images are then rendered in oil on canvas and surroundings are built from smooth surfaces and silky gradients. The volumes and perspective constructed this way feel calm and non-threatening, while revealing the most intimate of scenes, including flaws. Such public bearing begets rapport with the work, celebrating the human ability to live sincerely and feel deeply.
Concurrent with the exhibition, the artist and the gallery developed a book composed of O’Brien’s sketches from this past year, revealing an even more personal side to his work. The 76 pages of fluid figures brim with emotion. Along with a peek into O'Brien's creative process, the publication features handwritten contributions by Colin Laidley, Landon Gray Mitchell, Noam Parness, Efrem Zelony-Mindell, with the introduction written by Monya Rowe. –Sasha Bogojev