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November 10 - December 22, 2018
The Landing is pleased to present the first Los Angeles solo show for Ryan Fenchel, Odd Bouquet. Fenchel’s wondrously colored canvases feature vessels, often flower-filled, in various shapes; these urn-like forms reference traditional paintings of handled jars and vases. But, in a strong departure from the traditional, Fenchel’s vessels are anthropomorphized—some feature apparent faces in profile, as well as handles curved by what seem like human elbows. One particular vessel recurs throughout Fenchel’s paintings—a unique jar called “the adept,” which he uses as a protagonist and stand-in for himself. From painting to painting, this humanoid vessel explores various settings that reference mystic spiritual traditions, as if on a pilgrimage of exploration through a literalized landscape of esoterica.
The word “adept” comes from the Medieval Latin word “adeptus,” which means “one who has attained the secret of transmuting metals”: an alchemist. The connection between alchemy and vessels is why Fenchel uses that form as his stand-in. Fenchel’s adept is a character journeying through a landscape decorated with references to ancient mystical traditions—suns, moons, pools of water, chalices, the tree of life, figures doubled in reflective pools, triangles or pyramid shapes, disembodied eyes. A viewer feels they are present at a secret rite, an initiation, a moment of ritual—but the occasion’s details remain unclear. Fenchel told the magazine Maake that he intends his viewers to experience “a confused pleasure. I’d like them to walk away feeling drawn to the beauty of the image but unsettled by the inability to pin down what is going on. I want a viewer to enter my work feeling as if they know what they are looking at—everyone has used a vessel, it’s a familiar object—but the longer the viewer sits with the piece, the straightforward reading is upended, and the viewer is left with more questions than answers.” Elsewhere, he speaks of the intention of transitioning the “known into the unknown or mysterious.”
Fenchel creates these works by using oil stick and pastels on thin washes of paint. The resulting surface is waxy and multilayered, with the pasteled areas raised above the picture plane. His use of bright, brilliant, wondrous color—as well as his penchant for yellows, mustards, golds and flecks of metallic—bring to mind the works of Klimt, as does Fenchel’s willful flattening of the picture plane and use of heavy decorative flourishes, like floral patterns, triangles, circles, and painted areas that feel like wallpaper or fabric. At the same time, Fenchel’s spiritual subject matter references the canvases of French surrealist painter Odilon Redon, with their mythic figures, waxy surfaces, and floating, dreamlike otherworldliness—and especially Redon’s penchant for floral bouquets. Fenchel’s flowers themselves reference the Japanese practice of ikebana, where the unique, organic and off-kilter are celebrated.
The works in Odd Bouquet invite a viewer into the world of esoteric seeking—but place their emphasis on the moment of consideration, not the moment of enlightenment. Which is by design. Says Fenchel, “I find myself more satisfied by the investigation of a mystery than the solving of a puzzle. I want my work to create the chase rather than provide the answer.”
Ryan Fenchel has had solo shows in Chicago at Carrie Secrist Gallery, Dan Devening Projects, and Vega Estates, and in Seattle at the Department of Safety, and has been included in group exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin, and Philadelphia. He holds an MFA in Art Theory & Practice from Northwestern University and a BFA in printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute. The artist's regular trips to Japan have informed the aesthetics of his visual decision-making, as has his deep interest in the occult. He's currently based in Los Angeles.