Geoge Shinn’s large paintings at Muse Gallery this month suggest portraits–mostly of two or three people–with narrative titles that have to be the best titles of paintings anywhere ever. He has a one-man show at Muse Gallery right now, and the work looks better than ever and younger than ever.
But George is no youngster. He’s painting cartoon-faced people in edgy proximity in ambiguous relationships–the antithesis of Philip Guston’s loners in social situations. The stories seem pretty open. I don’t know what Scary-Mary and Babs are doing with the green-faced Nails (above), but he’s definitely not the kind of guy with whom to have a healthy relationship.
In Our Leader (the Bozo in the Blue shirt) Thinks I’m not Committed Enough for This Gig, the spacing of the crowd in office clothes is stifling. It’s not clear who is the odd man out. Any one of them might feel this way (except for the Bozo, who’s id’d by his blue shirt).
The cheerful pixillation–a Jorge Pardo pattern on acid–in the background of Behind That Smarmy Grin is One Mean Buckaroo suggests a broadcast. If so, that’s about right. In this one, the pattern filling the space feels like it was thought through and carefully applied. It changes the background to as much of a subject as the Mean Buckaroo, and more of a subject than the Buckaroo’s body. It turns the painting into a painting.
Shinn’s work is not really portraiture. It’s really about uncomfortable situations for ordinary people–who are always a little odd when you look carefully. Sometimes the story is stronger than the painting. I want to know why the sun in Charlie Flash, his Principal Squeeze and his “Accountant” Raphael is there, and if it’s there, why it’s so modest an element. Same goes for the flower in “Our Leader…” But the background in Babs/Nails/Scary-Mary seems like more of a decision, part of an overall painting, with a squiggly starry night roiling behind the trio along with the pulsing moon.
When Shinn fills his canvas and considers his backgrounds, his paintings are loopy–and touching–enough to make me want to see more.
Shinn’s exhibit will remain up at Muse Gallery, 52 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, 215.627.5310, until July 1.