Preview: Saturday 29 May (1-4pm)
We have undergone a revolutionary period unprecedented in modern times. Political, social, economic upheaval, and even climate change. The role of the artist in such a period is to react, reflect, and record their experience and materialize this process for the reception of the greater public in both the present and the future.
With regard to this new body of work by gallery artist Jonni Cheatwood, both the current Covid pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement have contributed to forming the basis of his new body of work. “My motivation here is to explore expressions in the social struggle, the nature of reality,” Cheatwood says from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s basically self-retrospective.”
The works are typical of Cheatwood’s growing oeuvre: self-reflexive, tongue-in-cheek, humorous, and light-hearted… but what we are also seeing for the first time is a poignant, relatable, and altogether human side of artist’s personal struggle as mixed-race black and Latino man in modern-day America: “[I wanted to discuss] being a BIPOC, being in an interracial marriage, my own anxieties and struggles.” The artist discusses that the works aren’t all necessary reactionary or revolutionary, but internalized, where meaning exists ‘beneath’ these figures.
Sure, the exhibition title, Live! From Therapy, is certain to get a self-aware chuckle, but there’s a very real, very human emotional experience that Cheatwood is exploring with these works. The resulting works suggest Cheatwood’s own personal redirection, as reflected in his art. The artist discusses his own feelings of dissociation: having to do a ‘code switch’ between black, Latino, and white America. Exploring his own familial tree for meaning and even imagery. “I asked my family a lot of hard questions about their families. We found some very old photos. They had style. They lived post-slavery. Some works in this show are based on these images.”
This historicity is obviously of great personal gravitas to the artist and it is thus unsurprising that the new works highlight the figurative. Included in the works are nods to his ‘old’ artistic persona appear as mise-en-abyme, or ‘paintings within paintings’; and the experience of what appears to be a therapist’s office in varying degrees of representation and deconstructing further into abstraction. Perhaps this is a reaction to a feeling of being cloistered, the claustrophobia of a worldwide pandemic where ripples are being felt throughout society, and political unrest and racial upheaval. Perhaps it is a response to not knowing exactly how to feel in a shape-shifting world; as a BIPOC; as an artist wanting to explore various modes. The works seem to engage with this period of transition: ‘Paint what you know’ is a frequently accepted idiom, and Cheatwood’s paintings deep-dive into this introspection; frenetic but contained, amusing but empathetic, somewhere between chaos and control, figurative and abstract.
Above all, Cheatwood deftly handles a switch in his artistic vernacular that feels neither forced nor uncomfortable – he seems totally at ease expanding his lexicon to the figurative, further defining his prowess as a painter. We are excited to welcome you into the metaphoric psychologist’s office… Here, we will partake in the ongoing discussion between self, society, and creative expression. We go LIVE in three, two, one…