Set Pieces and the Dual Nature of Reality
Stanley’s, los angeles
through april 23, 2022
Written by Lorraine Heitzman
There is definitely something curious going on in Chinatown. In Reality Becomes a Playground, the current show at Stanley’s, Nick Angelo’s series of small paintings and maquettes pique interest with revealing perspectives that lampoon societal hypocrisies and perhaps those of a more personal nature, too. The work has an easy appeal, mostly due to their miniaturization and detail, but it is their deliberate artifice that engages. In fact, the artifice is largely the point.
Each painting depicts a painted backdrop on a sound stage, often built upon risers, and surrounded and partially obscured by lighting equipment, cameras, and other tools of the trade used in the film industry. Ceilings are defined by rows of lights suspended from a grid overhead. Altogether, it is a familiar sight in Hollywood. Angelo uses stage sets to underscore the artificiality of his imagined rooms, forcing our attention towards the interiors. Rather than becoming immersed in a plausible narrative, the viewer is asked to look behind the scenes and beyond the obstructions to consider the illusory aspect of movie magic, and question reality, instead. In a specific sense, the creation of illusions is Hollywood’s business; in a larger sense it is the artist’s game as well. Artifice has always been used to tell the truth. This gimmick comes close to overwhelming the imagery, but Angelo manages to balance the dualities. It brings to mind the famous painting by Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable, 1939, that depicts Weems (who fabricated the story of young George Washington chopping down a cherry tree) pulling a curtain aside to reveal a scene of George confronted by his father, presumably about to confess to his misdeed. By pulling back from the backdrops to show the surrounding stage, Angelo also reveals the myth and the myth-maker, exposing the hoax. Both artists create pictures to suggest realities that are contrivances.
The backdrops and the titles of the paintings suggest different themes and locales, from production workspaces littered with computers and pizza boxes, to bedrooms, boardrooms and waiting rooms. They are not as benign as they might first appear. One painting shows an upscale office decorated with Picasso’s Guernica, reminiscent of a scene in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. In the movie, Eddie Adam’s iconic photograph of a Viet Cong prisoner’s execution is enlarged to create a grotesque mural. One has to ask, “Who does that?” There is the immorality of the act depicted, and the questionable morality of the character who lives with the image. Angelo chooses his props in a similar way. In his painting, Stage Painting (Celibate Fantasy), there is a bed placed on the front yard of a house. A white teddy bear sits atop the bedspread, a pizza box is on the ground at the foot of the bed and a bank of computer monitors are set on a nearby table. Above the house floats a prison-like window amidst a sky that is festooned with childlike clouds and butterflies. The fantasy of the incel is an infantile wish, manifested in a visual language to reflect his desires and supported by his online, virtual life that has replaced reality.
Angelo mentions the influence of Mike Kelly and others on his work, but there is also a little of Kerry James Marshall’s palette and organization in his compositions, and a touch of Roger Brown’s symmetry and flat abstraction. Also, in a strange contradiction, the work gains definition when viewed as a photographic image, benefitting from the compression and graphic crispness that a digital file offers. In person, the oil paintings are messier and muddier, lending a folk-art quality that seems at odds with the intent. Most of the series are small, but the single, larger painting has a boldness that is appealing.
Nick Angelo lives in Los Angeles and received his MFA from CAL ARTS in 2019. His previous work includes diagrammatic paintings and drawings of architecture, and installations. The new body of work in Reality Becomes A Playground is more intimate and personal, while continuing his interest in our relationships to the built environment. These fabricated spaces conjure not only fanciful and foreboding interiors, but also psychological states, real and imagined. In Angelo’s paintings, these obvious dualities clearly co-exist.