Untitled Grass Painting, 2022
oil and emulsified gesso on linen/canvas blend
60 x 60 x 1 1/8 inches
(152.4 x 152.4 x 2.9 cm)
David Kordansky Gallery is pleased to present a solo presentation of new paintings by Calvin Marcus for Frieze Seoul 2022.
Text by Samara Davis
If you follow Calvin Marcus’s work, you know how adept he is at creating all-encompassing worlds through his paintings. Each new series is a thorough dive into a different, highly idiosyncratic realm laced with humor, enchantment, and grotesquerie. His visions are vibrant, confident, and mind-bending. They are both dispatches from Marcus’s brain and invitations into his world.
These square compositions zero in on the weeds and tiny leaves that have appeared in so many of his other works, often in the background. Here, they pull focus into obsessive foreground details, emphasizing an aspect of nature that is often taken for granted. The weeds—a relentless emergence of green—thrive despite inhospitable contexts, flourishing atop new backdrops of nothingness. The plants that arise, intricate and bright, appear very much alive, but eerily so. Though the paintings are exhaustive, Marcus is not trying to recreate nature. Using repetition, motifs, and texture, he sticks to a vernacular and methodically creates his subject matter. The ordinariness of this matter contrasts with the extraordinary, feverish manner by which it is manifested, which appears almost devotional. Though the paintings are exhaustive, Marcus is clearly not trying to recreate nature.
What makes the images so ghostly, so menacing? Is there a threat of losing oneself in an overgrown world, where the details overwhelm exactly as their meaning fades? These odes to endless embellishment offer no real place to land. Countless dots of radioactive green float in herds and huddles against a cold, loose, deep brown wash. It’s a contrast that leaves one unmoored.
As with many of Marcus’s pieces, perhaps part of their magnetism is that they appear deceptively knowable at first—whether because of their subject matter, the scene, or the absurdity that’s offered—but with even the slightest amount of engagement, the meaning often grows until the ambiguity itself seems monstrous.
Marcus has a knack for revealing the dark underbelly of an object. An intense magnification gives way to a real or imagined terror or a lurking humor. But here there seems to be less of a revelation than a reverie. A reverence? The enchantment remains, but it has shed its former twinning with the grotesque, which animates many of Marcus’s other works. Is this enchantment an invitation to pause and consider the devotion to craft? Or is this magic merely the intense repetition of small gestures, which happens to make one devoted?
Marcus takes on each series of paintings as a totally new psychological and material investigation, and for this reason, every project represents a significant step in his career. By this account, what is happening here seems especially noteworthy. The spirit of these stunning, yet melancholic, paintings might be just beyond Marcus’s control, and the motivations that drove him to confront the existential voids lurking behind them might elude his—and our—awareness. For once, we may be on the outside of one of his worlds, witnessing the entanglement between an artist and his work, as well as the spontaneous emergence of a new kind of formal and material composition.
Calvin Marcus has been the subject of solo exhibitions at K11 Musea, Hong Kong (2019); The Power Station, Dallas (2017); Peep-Hole, Milan (2015); and Public Fiction, Los Angeles (2014). Recent group exhibitions include New Works in the Collection – From Abramovic to Warhol, Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Just Connect, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2020); Whitney Biennial 2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Trick Brain, Aïshti Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon (2017); and High Anxiety: New Acquisitions, Rubell Museum, Miami (2016), among others. His work is in the permanent collections of the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway; Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris; K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Marcus lives and works in Los Angeles.