It’s great that the canvas of the human imagination has room for abstract expression, as well as figurative, or that they can be one and the same - but that’s a whole other conversation. For now, let’s celebrate one of the avid fans of the figure, Trey Abdella, whose colorful, impudent work we introduced to readers in January 2019, just as he was getting his MFA at the New York Academy of Art. Things took off rapidly, and after a successful debut in Rome later that year, a solo presentation at Frieze NY earlier in 2020, he just opened a solo show at KÖNIG GALERIE's space in the former chapel of the St. Agnes Church in Berlin.


Six new, large-scale canvases comprise a series of mashups of pop-culture references and personal experiences through painting, collage, and assemblage. Abdella mixes technique, medium, and material with a technique that pushes his flat canvas work close to the sculptural sphere, almost reverberating in a way that demands in-person viewing, especially contrasted in their placement on the aged, brick walls of this intimate venue. 

2020 Trey Abdella Growing Pains KOENIG GALERIE photo by Roman Maerz 10

While his works from the last solo presentation did include glass, gravel, and odd little objects  incorporated into the work, this recent body of work erupts with tactility.  "I never know what kind of shit I'm going to end up trying out," the artist told Juxgtapoz recently when we spoke about this aspect of his work. "I've just been thinking about how to incorporate more things into painting and not make it about the materiality." Such efforts result in actual kid's jeans glued to the canvas, unruly locks of blonde wigs spiralling out from a meticulously painted head of hair, or glistening leaves continuing to "grow" over the edge of the painting. This unorthodox approach to collage, assemblage, and texture and transmute painting into a sculptural approach, an almost dizzying playground where captivating visuals challenge and delight. Writing his own rules, ignoring boundaries and guidelines, Abdella allows his imagination and ingenuity to roam free, energizing himself and the viewer.

"Thematically, I was really thinking of a coming of age kind of moment and certain feelings that also kind of resonate to now," Abdella tells us about the focus of this body of work. "I have kind of happier moments there but also more tragic ones." With the title of the show referring to the growing process as both painful and rewarding, the artist creates the push and pull  of  the amusing, and the miserable. Building his work from personal experiences and making pictorial chronicles of his life, the works address school detention tantrums, failed relationships and a memorable visit with a strip mall psychic. 

Regularly placed in the suburban environment of his youth, the images reflect the strong influence of both cartoon and cinematic aesthetics. By expertly using the airbrush technique to paint blurry backgrounds for his meticulously rendered, realistic images, or even adhering those actual items to the canvas, he fashions intense, movie-like frames; for example, working on actual film scenes and with actors such as Pretty in Pink’s Molly Ringwald, all contribute familiarity within the surreal scenes depicted. As the cartoon logic and effects are applied to the scenes, the exaggeration of emotions doubles the experience. An angry kid turns into a werewolf or an upset woman gradually turns red in the face as a conglomeration of different languages and a hybridization of different techniques ushers in those influences from childhood as they find a rightful place in this fine art scenario. —Sasha Bogojev