Existential Angst In The Haunting Expressions Of Sedrick Chisom and Dan Herschlein
Concurrent solo exhibitions at Matthew Brown Los Angeles
Reviewed by Eve Wood
Our world was forged in dissonance, and as a species we seek out discordance, adversity, pain and violence, and not only in the living world, but in fantasy as well. We relish the death of the villain at the hands of the hero. These are very old stories — tales, as the great Joseph Campbell once stated, where “the hero must give up the life he has planned in order to have the life that is waiting for him.”
Campbell’s statement presupposes that there is a journey, a transfiguration of experience as we move out into our lives, encountering both darkness and light along the way. This process is by its very nature disruptive, and artists like Sedrick Chisom create alternate worlds where traditional narrative structures hold no sway. In his exhibition When the Night Air Stirs, Chisom employs the staid and often predictable narrative conceit of large-scale landscape painting in order to nullify stereotypical ideas of agency and identity. He then radicalizes the traditional approach of the romanticized landscape painting of the 19th century by presenting these mixed media canvas’s as though they were tapestries hung loosely from the gallery walls, almost like skins, the physical leavings of our human consciousness.
Not only does the installation belie a deeper commitment to change and alternate ways of being, but there is also an urgency to his subject matter, which includes the rise of white supremacy, Christianity and climate change. These are big topics to take on, yet Chisom chooses to tackle the subjects metaphorically, which emboldens his deeper content in ways that might not be as effective if hit head on. By creating an alternate sci-fi universe in which “PoC have abandoned a dying earth to further explore the universe” [MBG press release], Chisom explores ideas of identity, race and personal and ethical responsibility as it relates to the human condition, begging the question — would not the same terrifying narratives be played out on another planet in some other galaxy or dimension were we to relocate the entire human race? After all, as Confucius once famously noted, “wherever you go, there you are.”
Infrared thermography is used to detect radiation in the long infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. In other words, this process enables us to see and understand our environment without visible illumination. Chisom’s paintings mimic this process by which we see only the demarcations of our physical forms as outlines, but cannot denote the physical body in its totality, only its presence in the surrounding space. Like a hungry ghost, the figure in his painting In the 22nd Century Ghosts N Goblins Walked In This Land, 2019 stands with his back to the viewer and his hands outstretched like strange distended claws. The figure appears to be fleeing the scene, running from some sinister threat; the gesture feels all too familiar like the images from the deep south that documented the lynchings of young black men in the 1940s and 50s.
As though in direct conversation with Chisom’s haunting imagery, Dan Herschlein’s strangely enigmatic sculptural paintings take the idea of human discordance one step further. In Plot Hole, Herschlein highlights specific moments of mundane humanness, instances of divine profundity where each figure’s own personal humanity is obfuscated, subsumed within a framework of dreariness and desperation.
The work that stands out the most here are three smallish graphite drawings made with pigmented wax and milk paint. They are deceptively simple, yet harrowingly anguished and could be representative of singular moments experienced within the scope of one human life, each sadder and more apocryphal than the next. In the Damp Room, for example, shows a man in his bed, clutching at his bedsheets as though in the final moments of life. The only thing missing is the subject’s head, which appears to have been wiped clean off his torso.
The image is profoundly disturbing yet entirely apt, especially considering the times in which we live when more and more people are isolated, alone in dark rooms, relating to no one but a glowing blue screen. This kind of deliberate separateness is its own form of decapitation, a deadening of the neurons in favor of any number of brain numbing images to placate and soothe the chaos of the modern mind.
Still, in other images like By a Tender Process, 2017, the central figure finally makes a connection with another headless body just outside the window, and the psychological pain of that fractured encounter is captured as the other man’s face turns back to look at us, terrified and mangled like Edvard Munch’s iconic figure in his painting The Scream.
We are living in difficult times to be sure, and now more than ever we are in need of artists who are not afraid to tear at their own flesh to reveal, indeed, to celebrate their uncertainties and the terrors inherent in being alive.