Andy Cahill’s recent show at Safe Gallery in Bushwick was a collection of psychedelic cartoon fever-dreams in urethane and acrylic on canvas. Cahill’s unique method of building up images using layer upon layer of tiny squiggly lines of color harkens back to the optical practices of impressionists and post-impressionists such as Seurat and Van Gogh, while his bulbous and distorted figures reference the paintings of Carol Dunham and R. Crumb’s drawings in Zap Comics.
The show can be roughly divided into two bodies of work based on the artist’s two modes of making: squiggly lines of urethane built up to make the image, or paint pushed through linen with crayon resist lines. All incorporate the graphic shapes of classic cartoon imagery, remixing them into Cahill’s own symbolist jig. The paintings are both pop and surreal.
When I met Cahill at the show in October, he was hesitant to identify himself as a painter. The artist’s background in animation and drawing is obvious in these works. Instead of taking the brush to canvas and blending colors to create form, Cahill’s scenes are either built up out of layered squiggles of color or have paint pushed through from the back of the canvas. Both practices lightly subvert the painterly tradition by a close encounter with, but avoidance of the painting’s surface. It’s unclear whether the artist’s brush ever actually touches the front of any of his canvases.
In the largest work, A Tale as Old as Time (2017, urethane on canvas, three parts, 62” x 54” each), a naked, ambiguously gendered character in the middle-left of the composition gestures toward a character behind them, sprawled on the ground on his belly in big blue socks and a red sweater, ass bared, reaching for a purple cabin up the hill. Scale and perspective have no sense in this cartoon world, yet the level of detail used to render forest backdrop gives the almost naturalistic sense of the chaos of a real forest.
In Four Holes (2017, urethane and acrylic on canvas, 62” x 54”) the space of the picture is completely imagined. It suggests a four-walled fun-house with pink ripples emanating from crossing yellow poles that enter orifices at the bottom, right and left sides of the picture. The fourth hole is the stylized mouth of face that melds in transparency with multicolored stripes built out of stipples of paint. Its round eyes are transfixed, beaming yellow shafts of light to meet the pattern of the rest of the canvas. This mysterious figure is a clown-idol, a face from a vision, and a crucifix, the most simplified analogy for the human body.
Other pictures depict furniture that becomes faces and houses with giant ears that give birth to smaller houses (Nest Egg, 2017. Urethane on canvas, 62″ × 54″.) Cahill’s pointillist approach to the surrealist cartoon form creates a signature style, a vibrating mashup of references to art history, pop culture and the occult. Cahill’s paintings depict a wonky interior world of visions and desires, colors vibrating against one-another like extruded pixels in a dream world.
Andy Cahill at Safe Gallery
October 14 – November 12, 2017
Writing by Alexandra Hammond