Tonally harmonious, the pieces in Chips are grouped like Sunday comic strips, or like Google Image Search pages slowly populating, their titles, broken links to a cached conversation. And yet each of them stands alone, even lonely, facing out or away from the others. Vulnerability and semi-performance are suspended in delicate depiction, the eagerness of each subject pulling at the artist’s sensitivity towards it. A dialogue between painter and muse is apparent, even if the painting is done from a photo, not a sitting in person.
The depth these portraits portray are a product of isolation and of an unexpected surplus of time, says the artist, Cody Critcheloe. The early summer quarantine paused a few projects Critcheloe was meant to direct in his new Los Angeles home base, and so, instead of attempting to interface in new and neutered ways (Zoom meetings were of no interest), for the next four months he focused on one of his historically less attended-to passions: painting. The result is 37 crushing and serene captures of humanity.
Although done alone, using only personal archives as references, Chips is anything but one-sided or voyeuristic. It should not surprise anyone who has followed his career that Critcheloe’s full-time foray into painting has yielded such sensitive work, and yet the photo-real works seem to appear out of nowhere, unanticipated despite all the signs.
As a musician, performer, video artist, and director, Critcheloe has always employed a painterly approach, masking and revealing his subjects through abstraction, masking, and uncomfortable detail. Critcheloe is by all accounts a student of both melodrama and punk rock—in his work, we are invited to contemplate the emotional depth offered by a limited range, the sublime tragedy of excess. With solo projects and joint efforts, Critcheloe has created an extensive oeuvre that centers on the many meanings of identity and idolatry.
Known for using genre as a material to shred and reconstruct using a pop polish, Critcheloe’s projects tend to tease out insecurities, just as his idols have, accidentally—his idols being outcasts with unwieldy egos. In these paintings, though, the ego is less over-exposed, more meticulously tended-to. The stage has gone dark, the room quiet. Flashes of color obscure and intensify expressions, surreal but taken from life—the cloudy focus of a film flare, the unnatural light of a digital smudge.
Source images include unused storyboard shots from music videos Critcheloe was set to direct, before the pandemic stopped production, among other scenes. People, animals, and inanimate objects are caught in an indefinite period of anticipation, waiting for a cue, congealing in the sun, swimming off the canvas. Much of Chips is a scene within a scene. Smaller images play out in other places, creating a theme of association.
For example, in one painting, a kid of the nineties makes eye contact with what is clearly a camera, momentarily facing away from a societally obsessed-over film scene playing on TV. Here, the movie’s ubiquity, the artist’s mirroring trick, the small child in front of adult drama, and the collision of so many cognitive moments within one space contend with the order and chaos of manipulated images, the condensing of time through memory, and the self-identification that happens when viewing—anything, and everything, all at once, “alone together.”
View images from Cody’s exhibition here.