A Dialectic Nature: Ryan Bubnis and Jeff Pfeil at Stephanie Chefas Projects
New works by Ryan Bubnis and Jeff Pfeil are currently on display at Stephanie Chefas Projects.
From The Ground Up by Bubnis and Rhizome by Pfeil could appear at first glance to be extended paintings from a similar, if not the very same, project. Their vibrant hues and interpretive subjects coalesce well within the gallery space. Aesthetically, the curatorial decision to feature these two artists in congruity is visually stimulating and apt. Thematically, however, these artists employ wildly different approaches to the content they paint. Bubnis hovers on a cheery and reflective surface; his intention is that of unadulterated joy and entertainment. In contrast, Pfeil’s more formal approach to his work appears to employ more structured intonations of color theory and composition which would serve no role in Bubnis’ lighthearted canvases. Thus, this juxtaposition of taste and artistic intentions offers an opportunity for engaging dialogue centered around the specifics of form, color, and technique.
In From The Ground Up, Bubnis mixes comical, organic forms with figurative caricatures of roller skating cats, smiling apples, detached animal paws and cartoon characters. For his second showing at Stephanie Chefas Projects, Bubnis presents colorful assemblages, textiles and ceramic work that are bounciful in nature and content. The exhibition bears the same name as a self-published zine the artist began in 2009 that highlights similar themes of youthful exuberance and jouissance. This new series of paintings and sculptures functions almost like a call to action to gallery-goers, communicating a desire to be carefree and to return to one’s childlike roots. Nostalgia plays a heavy factor in this series.
What first draws viewers to these pieces is their liberal application of ecstatic colors. While at first glance the tones might not necessarily seem to coalesce with one another, upon closer inspection it is precisely their contrasting hues that make them curious and appealing to the eye. As in “They Came From Ground Up” bright pinks are placed next to sharp shades of blues and greens, all on a gray, almost marbled background. The canvas appears at times paint splattered or crumpled, heavily layered with paint, yet the precision with which lines and forms are executed is sharp and exact. Vaguely reminiscent of Pop Art with a contemporary spin, the quadraning off of geometric segments and inclusion of dots and stripes gives room for the works to breathe and be treated formally, yet not stiflingly.
The title attributed to this exhibition is cheeky, playing in line with the subject matter. A majority of Bubnis’s paintings prominently feature various sliced fruits as well plant-like growths blooming out of fun pots and vases. In the case of “Blow The Horn” one such plant is seen emerging out of the bell of the horned instrument. One may question the presence of a plant in this setting, but the oversaturation of color and styles on the canvas quickly distracts and leaves little room for unnecessary introspection. Bubnis, perhaps as a result of his name, does not shy away from the bubbly in his painterly disposition and I find the inclusion of these elements to be far from frivolous. The whimsical nature of these works, both in execution and construction (the exhibition also contains a portion of paintings on done on paint stirrers) is generous and imbues humor into these pieces.
Whereas Bubnis’s work is shown in the main space of the gallery, Pfeil’s is nestled in The Annex of Stephanie Chefas Projects offering a more intimate viewing experience. In botany, a rhizome is creeping, subterranean, and wide-spreading; a mass of roots and stems that continuously extends underground and consumes a space. Rhizome as constructed by the artist similarly expands beyond the limits of the canvases to fully encompass the back room space. Toeing the line between realism and abstraction, these works by Jeff Pfeil are highly controlled in their depictions of natural elements and playful use of color theory. Science and geography becomes translated in line and gradients with these works, alluding to the tremendous skill with which they are laboriously and carefully crafted. This reexamination of our universe serves to put into conversation they way one interacts with one’s natural surroundings. What these paintings illuminate is that such interactions are entirely subjective, susceptible to change at the first shift in perspective.
Combining acrylic and spray paint on canvas, Pfeil mixes these different mediums to work outside the confines that limit and distinguish low and high art. These paintings almost double as studies in entomology considering Pfeil’s incredibly detailed renderings of critters taking up the prominent part of the canvases. These scientific drawings are detailed but incomplete, leaving an element of deciphering the status of the bug to the imagination of the viewer. Nonetheless, the artist’s stylistic rendering of their shells pays due tribute to their true wild forms. At once, they are both accurate and entirely open to interpretation. Their form is recontextualized first at Pfeil’s hand, and then at the gaze of the viewer.
Just as in the series by Bubnis, the color palette employed here by Pfeil is striking and visually jarring at first. The smooth backgrounds -- either in pale blue or pink, or the single canvas done in a more sharp yellow -- give solid ground to the disparate elements positioned atop. These compositions are less organic than Bubnis’s and much more formulaic in their order. The elements of the paintings are three-fold and always repeated in the same vertical pattern of a body of a bug, a linear composition done in spray paint, and a series of geometric blocks of various colors. This consistency lends a steady and even calming effect that the somewhat overwhelming paintings by Bubnis do not. While the inclusion of spray paint may seem at odds with the works, the control needed for its use should not be underestimated. What appears to be the most slipshod and quickly done aspect of these works is, I would propose, perhaps the most highly calculated. Having less ability to be in command of the aerosol can than a paintbrush, one small error in pressure has the loaded potential to drastically morph the whole painting. And perhaps, this precarity is precisely what Pfeil is attempting to emphasize, the ability of the rhizome to grow in unprecedented directions.
Both Pfeil and Bubnis successfully cultivate an energetic mood within the space of Stephanie Chefas Projects. Their contrasting thematics intentionally differ only so as to meld coherently on a broader scale, at the hand of their intensity and similar treatment of pigment and structure.
From The Ground Up and Rhizome will be on view at Stephanie Chefas Projects until April 28, open Thursdays-Saturdays from 1-6pm.
*All images are courtesy of Stephanie Chefas Projects.