LOS ANGELES — Of all of the mythic Greek figures, Hercules is probably the epitome of popularized masculinity: He muscle groups his manner by each problem and nothing can cease him besides, after all, a faithless lady (she poisons his tunic). This hero embodies most of the problematic male aspirations and anxieties that proceed to plague us at present, for instance war-mongering dictators on the worldwide scene and patriarchal efforts to restrict girls’s freedoms domestically.
So what occurs when Kyle Staver, consummate painter of mythology, takes the labors of Hercules as her topic? The knock-out reply may be seen at Present of Power, at present on exhibition at Moskowitz Bayse, her first solo journey in Los Angeles and the primary time Staver has targeted a whole exhibition on a single character. The present consists of seven massive work displaying as many labors — simply over half of Hercules’s whole twelve. There are additionally clay bas-relief sculptures, a sequence of etchings, and tiny research on panel the place the artist explores her chosen theme (all are pleasant). Lastly, there are two unrelated canvases on show: one in all Daniel within the Lion’s Den, and the opposite of Saint Sebastian, which occurs to be a tour de pressure.
Portray is clearly an unlimited pleasure for Staver, a pleasure felt in each inch of her canvases (on the opening she was stroking the floor of her work as if they had been the flanks of a beloved racehorse). Her mark-making is rough-and-tumble, her sensitivity to paint and lightweight acute. Staver’s signature transfer is to put a lot of the picture in shadow whereas scattering highlights all through the portray. She does this to nice impact in Hercules and the Harpies (2021): The portray is sort of fully in a inexperienced half-light, however solar gleams off the harpies’ streaming shocks of golden hair, limns Hercules’s physique, catches on just a few vegetation within the central background, and illuminates some harpy tail feathers. One of many monsters sports activities hilariously shiny pink nipples, staring in open-mouthed alarm as Hercules overpowers her sisters. Staver’s coloration sense is noteworthy for her potential to persistently make a whole portray glow, even within the predominant shadowed portion, making broad use of pthalo greens and blues to generate hues of decrease worth with out sacrificing vibrancy.
Her compositions are tautly dynamic, with out exception. I spoke together with her on the opening, and he or she informed me that when she was a graduate scholar at Yale, the professor William Bailey used to inform her “Patrol your edges!” Clearly, Staver took the lesson. In “Hercules and the Hydra” (2022) the titular creature’s coils push up towards all 4 borders of the rectangle, two crimson snake tongues converging on the hero’s pointy nostril to make a pinwheel on the portray’s prime heart. “Hercules and the Canines” (2021) finds Cerberus on the left facet of the canvas with our powerful man on the appropriate and one of many canine’s three heads crossing his midsection, the overlap imbuing its lolling pink tongue with a lewdly phallic affiliation. The chains with which Hercules subdues Cerberus cling from his arms all the best way down the portray’s proper edge ending at his foot, his pinky toe adorned with a glowing swipe of paint enlivening the underside proper nook. Every of her work is equally rigorous within the deployment of kinds and damaging shapes, giving her photos a bristling power whereas producing geometric pleasures that remind me of classical Italian painters.
However what does Staver actually take into consideration Hercules? These work are shot by with silliness: the demigod wears the Nemean Lion’s pores and skin, its head mounted to Hercules’s personal with a jaunty blue ribbon like a Drum Main’s busby. In “Hercules and the Boar” (2022), the lion’s head appears to be chomping down upon our hero’s, the lion’s expression sheepishly conscious of the goofiness. Clearly, Staver is laughing, however her laughter doesn’t really feel dismissive or mocking. Regardless of the horrors introduced upon us by would-be strongmen like Trump or Putin, the artist shows compassion in direction of this archetype of hypermasculinity. In her portrayals, Hercules is working arduous; we really feel the seriousness of his striving. She paints his flesh in ochres (typically pink, typically inexperienced), giving him a mortal earthiness slightly than a heavenly glow: he’s one in all us. Staver’s view feels balanced as if to say: Positive, the twelve labors are absurd, however isn’t all human endeavor? And let’s face it: Is any battle extra nonsensical than making artwork? Though we’re only a miniscule blip within the universe, Staver rejects nihilism — our efforts are honest, they make our lives significant. This, maybe, is a philosophical be aware to be present in Staver’s glowing darks, a whisper that mild and hope is perhaps in all places, even the place we expect it absent.
However how a lot valor is actually to be present in conquest? The demigod’s skirmishes loosely recall Caroll Dunham’s wrestler work with their nonstop brawling, which I additionally noticed in Los Angeles again in 2017. Hercules’s battles are epic, he’s destined to win; he’s a hero, in any case. Dunham’s combatants, against this, are locked in preventing that seems limitless and pointless. Evaluating the 2 sequence of works generates an illuminating hyperlink — although we prefer to think about that we’re Hercules, heroes awaiting our second, in actuality we’re extra doubtless Dunham’s creatures, our fixed conflicts main us solely in circles.
Kyle Staver: Present of Power continues at Moskowitz Bayse (743 North La Brea Avenue, Fairfax) by June 18. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.