Geoffrey Chadsey presents drawings arresting in their startling juxtapose of familiar figures
In Geoffrey Chadsey first solo show of drawings, the artist has created a strangely affecting range of characters studies and narrative scenes inspired by contemporary and historical Americana from hip hop to high fashion, from former presidents to the current Republican administration, and from gay men on the prowl to gay men on vacation. What makes you flinch is the way in which the artist combines characteristics from each well-worn cliché to paint a different view of American culture in which sexuality, gender, and race are highly interchangeable.
In one section of drawings, Snoop Dogg, Juvenile, Lil’ Bow Wow, and Kate Moss make appearances, but they are not in character as sex-obsessed, teeth baring thuggish demi-gods or a swooning high-fashion demi-goddess. Chadsey transfigures their photo-based, recognizable features into unrecognizable bizarre hybrids in which the glamour, desire, fear, and longing are diffused and reconstituted into a flesh tingling grotesquerie of characters.
Another section of drawings depicts more romanticized homoerotic encounters whose base images Chadsey takes from gay-themed Web sites and his own trove of photography, yet his mix of characters is no less disquieting. In one drawing in which he has borrowed a scene from a gay vacation Web site, Chadsey depicts a group of mostly middle aged men hanging out in a palm tree-lined pool. A closer look, however, reveals that one bather resembles President George Washington, and another Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Its Americana-gone-wild narrative is open-ended and the scene, however jolting, draws you in, perhaps because of its novelty. Where else can you see a homoerotic image of 50-year-olds in an let-it-all-hang-out atmosphere with no twink in sight?
Chadsey’s talent doesn’t rest in the passive enterprise of googling and photoshopping a literal cut-and-paste menagerie of heads. While he readily borrows faces, bodies, and poses, he reinterprets them aggressively in an obsessive drawing style, never losing his sense of the medium in a flurry of recognizable and shocking imagery. Working in watercolor pencil on mylar, Chadsey takes several months to complete each drawing, painstakingly filling in the details of his motley crew. He renders skin as successive lines, similar to the patterned lines on American currency or timeworn lines of tree rings. The striated inscription of curving lines suggests sagging, creased, and desiccated flesh. The dominant skin tone is a distinctive, faded sickly green hue—think again the almighty dollar—bringing a hint of the macabre and fantastical to contemporary and recognizable scenes.
Hannibal Lector’s stunning revelation in “Silence of the Lambs”—that what one covets is what one sees every day—describes not only the killer instinct but illustrates quite well the relationship between the contemporary viewer and popular visual media from fashion to music video, from Internet porn to commercial art. What we gobble up with our eyes every day is not so much the delectable morsel of beefcake briefly glanced as he passes by but a constant barrage of images spread out and captured for hours and hours of pleasure and scrutiny. What Chadsey, a savvy connoisseur of popular culture, covets is an affectingly emotional range of gesture, style, nostalgia, and sexuality and what he serves up is a highly individualistic interpretation that hints at a trove of unique stories yet to be told.