Imagine you are a detective asked to solve a crime. You arrive on the scene to find only the remnants left by the perpetrator. They have been arranged in a random yet somehow seemingly purposeful order. A goldfinch alights on a teal gumball machine, circa 1950, which boasts a star as its trademark. The bird’s head is cocked in watchful acknowledgement of your presence. A bee makes its way up a blue-striped cloth casually draped on the sideboard. A window reflected on the glass globe of the apparatus reveals a light blue sky. Nested in its shadow on the right, lies a well-worn croquet ball with a green stripe. On the left, a yellow wooden spinning top striped in red and white, dating from the 1930’s or 1940’s, rests on top of a wooden alphabet block sporting the letter G in red.
Like a pinball ricocheting to the next bumper, your eye is drawn to the opposite side where another block, this time marked by the letter B in blue, lies a bit closer to the light source. Upon it sits a deep fuchsia-colored gumball. The balls multiply in assorted sizes and colors quietly and particularly arranged; an orange next to its complement of purple, a blue one peaking out from the B block, a larger robin’s egg-colored one sits in front of the G cube, a pink one rests on the lip of the machine, and a large jawbreaker to the right front of the gumball dispenser (itself halfway full) is on the verge of pushing a smaller yellow ball off of the edge of the table where it hangs precariously as if on a cushion of air. It is at this pregnant moment that you realize you are not standing before the objects themselves but a Trojan horse, a trompe l’oeil painting that reveals just enough of the pieces of the puzzle to keep you intrigued without proclaiming a full narrative.
Described by its opponents as trickery, this 17th century tradition of painting has some very specific rules. Items included in the composition must be painted in realistic size, color and shape, not diverting from the model and included in their completeness within the picture plane. Movement is also eschewed, although the exception is made for creatures that pause and stand still in moments. Painted with glass-like smoothness that enhances the illusion, uninterrupted by the reminder of the materials of which it is made, The Gumball Incident (2015) created by Tony Curanaj is only part of a his larger exhibit entitled Echoes and Endeavors, on view for just one more week at the Joshua Liner Gallery in Chelsea.
It is perhaps the wide assortment of synthetic colors displayed by the gumballs that bring Curanaj’s observational prowess and skillful rendering of common yet carefully chosen objects out of the 17th and into the 21st century. A proponent of the Munsell System, a scientific and mathematical color theory developed by Albert H. Munsell, Curanaj mixes and tubes his own colors to precisely match the hue, value and chroma of the objects, which he paints purely from observation.
A direct link to William Michael Harnett’s Still Life-Violin and Music (1888) can arguably be made, at least in the use of the painted wooden panel used as a backdrop, often seen in trompe l’oeil as a foil for more three dimensional objects in a shallow depth of field. It is embedded with a red pushpin just as the nails in Harnett’s painting pierce the paneled cabinet door. The machine itself can be seen as a modern day hourglass, often used in vanitas, allegorical still life paintings representing the transitory state of living. Finally, it cannot be without consciousness, if not intention, that the goldfinch gives rise to associations with Carel Fabritius’s famous illusionistic painting The Goldfinch (1654).
Perception is everything. How we frame situations. How we frame objects. It all comes down to what we bring to the table along with our own visual sensibilities. Maurice Merleau-Ponty states in his book Phenomenology of Perception (1945), “Our perception ends in objects, and the object once constituted, appears as the reason for all the experiences of it which we have had or could have.” Here, Curanaj has presented us with his objects in a realism so exacting that it seems the unquestioning truth. It is the best kind of trickery, the kind where you do not see the hand of the magician yet it is there without self-consciousness.
Pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Pay very close attention.
Joshua Liner Gallery
Echoes and Endeavors
Novemer 19th to December 19th, 2015
Writing by Kim Power
Photos courtesy of Joshua Liner Gallery