It isn’t easy to extract an entire narrative from the representation of a single moment within that narrative. While we can point to details in a scene and use them as evidence to understand what is happening in that instant, or what might have happened prior to, but even the most educated guess is just that- a guess. Although there could be no way of knowing whether or not the story we fit around that single moment is accurate, we speculate regardless. At the Mike Weiss Gallery* in Chelsea, 30 year old artist Dan Schein manipulates this almost universal human impulse to contextualize in his solo show Where Do We Dump the Bodies? The show is mostly comprised of large scale canvases, although it also features some smaller graphite drawings. But even before seeing any of Dan Schein’s work, the show’s title encourages the imagination, and thoughts of organized crime or serial killers are already reeling through your head before you lay eyes on a single brushstroke. Moreover, all the paintings are united stylistically, thus reenforcing the impulse that they must all be connected, related, part of the same story. Each painting features a sombre pallet, more dirty than earthy. One painting in particular reenforces the oppressiveness of this pallet, in Nude and Goat Schein paints a shockingly turquoise sneaker on the foot of said nude. But even that is not enough. The nude woman contorts her leg and ankle so the sneaker faces the viewer prominently, proudly. The intensity of the sneaker’s color underscores the extreme grubbiness that permeates all other colors in not just this painting, but the rest of the paintings too. Furthermore, Schein paints with frantic, anxious brushstrokes, scratching out oddly jumbled landscapes and characters. And his characters, with their wide eyes and leering expressions, are as menacing as they are unsettling. They seem to inhabit their swampy, desolate surroundings with as much disdain as they would approach any other aspect of their grimy lives. And yet, despite all the albeit unsavory stylistic choices which link them together, there is no discernible narrative to be understood from these paintings. One painting does not inform the other, and while they have many similarities in the way they are rendered, the moments they portray are significant to the individual painting only. Despite every impulse to string the paintings together, to make a chronological story out of single scenes, they disobey every logical narrative link that could connect them to each other. There are no reoccurring characters, let alone a protagonist or antagonist, and there aren’t any bodies to be dumped. This is the most difficult aspect of Schein’s show to come to terms with. I, for one, found the paintings to be beautiful in a sad, gawky kind of way, and felt that the impulse to connect the paintings distracted from appreciating them. I had to overcome the desire to find a story, and be satisfied with only what was in front of me.
*Dan Schein’s solo show Where Do We Dump the Bodies
was on view at the Mike Weiss Gallery, 520 W 24th Street,
from September 8th to October 8th