"Town and Country": Rebecca Morgan Returns to Asya Geisberg, NYC
Asya Geisberg Gallery presents Town and Country, Rebecca Morgan's fourth solo exhibition with the gallery. The show displays Morgan's achievement in painting, as well as examples printmaking and brass sculpture, new endeavors for the artist. With archly symbolic portraits and complex scenes, Morgan weaves a grand narrative of gendered subversion buttressed by broader societal scale.
Her characters straddle both the timelessness of morality tales and the specific moment we find ourselves in, redefining gender relations and reviewing historical representations in works from John Hughes movies, to stylized exemplars like Rubens and Fragonard, to Norman Rockwell's foundational Americana lore. While always emanating from a contemporary socio-political yet diaristic lens, Morgan's work now charts a wider continuum of referents. Archetypal characters strain against their roles, undermine fabricated notions of romance, and confront the hollow fear behind current masculinity, with both levity and tension.
Self-Portrait Painting a Sluggin', 2019. Watercolor on paper, 22h x 30w inches.
A potent example is Roman Charity, which refers to a classical art-historical image of a starving old man who is revived by his daughter nursing him. Morgan uses this as a metaphor for the thankless female labor that only now is being named and recognized. The painting is a baroque collection of orbs and swirls; a cartoonish blue bow atop the maiden's head echoes the father's rhythmic chest hair and eyebrows, and its color is picked up in the anachronistic nails. Nipples, pearls, cheeks and eyeballs all have an exaggerated roundness as even a nose resembles the swishes of a ski piste. Its clarion call is made more timeless, blunt, and sugary with Morgan's painterly profusions.
Roman Charity, 2019. Oil and graphite on panel, 30h x 24w inches.
With another classical reference, Morgan's nine-foot hyper-detailed pencil drawing Panty Stealers (After Diana and Actaeon) updates the Greek myth of the hunter Actaeon, who encounters Diana and her handmaidens bathing nude. Angered at being observed, Diana turns him into a stag and his own dogs kill him. Morgan updates the innocence of Norman Rockwell's No Swimming with a classical bathing scene, but twists the gaze, narrative power, and subjectivity on its head. The man depicted is deviant, primal, and outrageous, while the bathers are idealized self-portraits. Instead of a romanticized illustration of courtship or innocent hi-jinks, we see an act of violation, met with anger and disgust. Again, Morgan's exquisite rendering and the drawing's confrontational scale both engages and repels the viewer.
Panty Stealers (After Diana and Actaeon), 2019. Graphite on paper. 71h x 64w inches.
Morgan cloaks her critique deftly, elevating it with heroic style, or espousing a genuine sympathy for the real and imagined foundations of entitled male identity. In the brass bust Small Winkie White Man, the titular torso shows a man with a one-toothed grin and wide-open eyes, indicating an unselfconscious innocence that belies his minimal manhood. Without a hint of revenge, Morgan depicts masculinity in confusion and disrepair, both historically and in a possible future where women take back the reins. For the small portrait Champion Pie Eater, another grinning male's face is covered in dripping red, indicating a garish joke, sexual innuendo or, perhaps, a horror movie poster. A corn-fed boy, worthy of Franz Hals, becomes a stylized parody akin to the movie "American Psycho".
Champion Pie Eater, 2019. Oil on linen, 14h x 11w inches.
With a wink to the legions of female nudes painted over the ages, Morgan's collection of busty ladies and balding men represent a candid archive of the myth of America's golden past, what it projects and whose voice it excludes. In her feverish imagination, we instantly recognize the familiarity that her sophisticated works make use of, and yet each work causes us to question how we could have swallowed these cultural images whole without complaint for so long.
Town and Country opens September 12th and is on view through October 19th at Asya Geisberg Gallery in NYC.