Celeste Rapone + Ryan Mosley - LA Pop-up Exhibition
Celeste Rapone & Ryan Mosley
16 – 30 July 2022
In paintings by Celeste Rapone and Ryan Mosley, stories are prompted rather than told. What we’re given is the apparatus of narrative – characters, locations, objects, a certain emotional weather – but putting it into motion is on us. It’s always been that way when it comes to storytelling in painting, but in these artists’ works, that participation is part of their subject. See how, in Rapone’s works, painted objects sit just within reach at the canvas’s bottom edge, as though awaiting deployment in an improv class. See also how, in Mosley’s, characters are suspended amid acts of motion – on boats, on camels; they need somewhere to go, something to be.
These are new paintings by two artists, one (Rapone) American, the other (Mosley) British. Their coming together in Los Angeles with Josh Lilley, beyond an unforced enthusiasm for each other’s work, is a matter of a shared sensibility. They both show an interest in painting’s distinct ability to unfold itself, to get larger, within a receptive mind. Their works tell how this ancient medium, in a culture sagging heavy with stories, can still do something other things can’t: namely, to germinate narratives rather than complete them. While both painters deploy casts of characters (some familiar, others not), their approach is embedded within the language of the medium itself. Possibilities emerge through effects of colour and surface, choices of scale and degrees of finish.
In Rapone’s work, human figures crush and fold themselves into the space of the painting. Bodies repeat the shape of their containment. Often unfixed in their gender identities, they are nevertheless surrounded by still life objects of a curious specificity: Johnson and Johnson shampoo, Domino sugar sachets. In Soapboxing, a woman in a newsprint dress barks her opinions through a megaphone, while being filmed on an iPhone by an indifferent observer, and if that feels all too familiar, it’s because Rapone’s paintings live in parallel to the culture we all share. Like the artists of the last century whose works hers recall – Ben Shahn, maybe, or George Tooker – Rapone’s narratives emerge from the mess and humiliations of modern experience. Mosley’s, by contrast, conjure a timescale that feels at once familiar and not. Haircuts and fashions offer a cultural moment or its revival. Where Rapone’s narratives seem discrete and internalised, Mosley’s are open and sprawling, like the psychedelic seas that wash his troubadors in and out. In Gustave and the Siren, two figures in a pitching rowboat enact a drama that plays out as at once bucolic (an afternoon on the river) and disquieting (the title’s nod to The Odyssey’s musical enchantresses). Casting Gustave Courbet as a listless hipster is of a piece with Mosley’s playful engagement with art history, in which Munch, Ensor and Bonnard provide the atmosphere for meandering travelogues by addled hippies.
Paintings carry stories into our lives. They always have. If we think of paintings as vessels for narrative, it’s easy to see their physical structures as reminiscent of forms of transportation. The wooden stretcher is like a makeshift raft, the canvas like a sail. (Though a strange thought now, this kind of thinking would not have surprised, say, a Renaissance Venetian). All of these paintings are alive with new possible directions of travel. Each one is a point of departure towards something not yet known or not yet seen.
Ben Street, June 2022