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In the digital era, images past and present have accumulated in the spaces of Google, YouTube, and Instagram. History has become simultaneous with the present, and visual culture unfurls with a jubilant accessibility. That accessibility can be excessive when accompanied by misinformation, or a lack of context—its meaning flattened beneath the usurpation of popular culture, consumerism, and parody. Painting, the longest standing source of Western visual culture, is most susceptible to that flattening; you’ve seen it, but you don’t really know it.
Wandering into Lost Time, an exhibition of recent paintings by D.C-based artist Matt Pinney, viewers can expect to first be apprehended by scale. Most of these boldly colored works are significant in size, presenting an impressive inaugural opening to Brentwood Art Exchange’s Lab Gallery, a new space dedicated to the solo exhibitions of area artists. The boldness of vibrant yellows and blues, straight from the tube, placed next to fuchsias and greens match Pinney’s unflinching directness with line. The outlines of his figuration, some in gestural contour and others in flat silhouette, are nothing short of a fascinating vacillation between spontaneity and deliberation on the painted surface. But two rather monochromatic works, “Erinyes” and “Sycamore/Travelers,” are noteworthy in their somber tones of browns and blacks—a palette that would be difficult to successfully pull off if not for Pinney’s trademark variations of texture, bold strokes, and mysterious imagery.
The strength of that imagery lies in a combination of allusion and ambiguity. In “Garden of Earthly Delights,” two barely sketched contours emerge from the Matisse-like palette pleading viewers into a deeper investigation across content that, in its biblical and art historical positioning, is both original and familiar. Even in “Yo’Oko and the Ambassadors,” which is a direct reference to the 16th century painting by German artist Hans Holbein, Pinney adds a splayed tiger’s skin to the center of the composition. The original is an iconic painting known for its attention to details of pattern, as well as the placement of an anamorphic skull between the two subjects, but Pinney’s substitution of the skin seems like an arbitrary addendum. Is it the newest trend in this year’s fashion? A pronouncement for the preservation of endangered species? Or a nod toward the randomness by which images are seen? The tight patterning of Holbein’s famous textiles becomes loose and dissolves alongside Pinney’s tiger skin, just as all minute details proliferate and then pixilate before us.
Inherent in each of these works—subdued or vivid in color, culled from history or mythology—is the juxtaposition of person and place. Unlike Matisse’s nudes, Pinney’s multiple figures in a unified setting do not frolic; as in “Sycamore/Travelers” they stalwartly pass. Here the long-held subject of the outdoor nude has fallen to that of mass migration, but Pinney recycles allegory as a tool from the visual past in order to articulate that contemporary concern. What’s most moving about this sampling of works, however, is Pinney’s ardent deference to painting itself. In marks that are both reworked and extemporaneous, there is the “lost time” of the artist who, despite the tedium and uncertainty of his or her labor, endlessly reinvents the relevancy of Painting.
To Oct. 20 at 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood. Free. (301) 277-2863. arts.pgparks.com/1782/Brentwood-Arts-Exchange.