2.9 / Review

Blue Skies From Now On

By Spencer Young January 10, 2011

The throng at First Thursday at 49 Geary can get so thick that it’s typical to spend more time stuck in traffic jams in the hallways and stairwells than in the actual galleries. And once in the galleries, chitchat and pointless wandering take precedence over looking at the art. This is to be expected. What isn’t to be expected is being absolutely absorbed into any one exhibit, and even more unlikely, any one artwork. But Dan Lydersen’s oil paintings in Blue Skies From Now On, at Jack Fischer Gallery, do exactly this—they seduce, slow, and saturate the viewing experience.

At first glance, the seduction of Lydersen’s work seems entirely superficial: ridiculous characters are placed in equally ridiculous situations that are drenched in bright colors and overly determined detail. In Refuge (2010), for instance, a Teletubby hides behind a tree while a team of hunters in the distance scans the lush, rolling hills. The soft, warm emptiness of the landscape—half blue skies, half greenery—invites an immediate leisureliness that is common throughout Blue Skies. These backgrounds are somehow both blaringly and subtly beautiful, evocative of verisimilitude and artificialness. The longer one sticks around, however, the confused superficiality of these backgrounds recedes into the compelling complexities of the foreground. It is here that the tension between subjects and objects sparks a curious narrative where the devil is found in the details—why are these three, smartly dressed men hunting Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby? And why is Tinky Winky grinning with sinister elation in the shadows of an ominous tree?

This surface-to-depth transition is experienced best in Lydersen’s Front and Rear (2010) diptych. Like any classic

Front and Rear (diptych, left panel), 2010; oil on panel; 46 x 32 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco.

Front and Rear (diptych, right panel), 2010; oil on panel; 46 x 32 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco.

fairy tale, it starts nauseatingly cute. In this case, an aircraft ascends majestically through another open blue sky while down below a pack of bunnies rests in a grassy knoll colored by daffodils and dandelions. At the top of this picturesque island sits a pretty pink house in front of which a wholesome boy stands and offers a cake to four blonde girls dressed in pink smocks. Cloying and saccharine, nothing is down; everything is up and buoyant like a Saturday afternoon in spring. Grass and flowers sprout, stairs scale, a white picket fence points its triangulated tops, the girl on the second-floor deck stands with a helium-filled balloon ready to pop, and, of course, there’s the plane flying heavenward. From top to bottom and bottom to top, the first panel in Front and Rear soars in decadence that knows no bounds and has no worries. But closer inspection reveals something off: one of the bunnies has red eyes, there’s a gloomy factory off in the distance, and the girls, rather than looking pleasantly surprised with their new sugary delivery, appear to be suffering from ennui.

The second panel of the diptych takes the viewer to the back of the house where things aren’t as pretty as they once seemed. A dark, deep wound in the rock that is the foundation to the house emits a stream of blood (or something red and serious) and collects amongst piles of scattered rubbish. Like the pages of a book, the panels in this diptych allow for a type of reading that has a beginning and an end. But in the case of Front and Rear, it’s not just a story of heaven and hell or the beautiful and the ugly: all the particulars, the details and debris, like the dense textual elements found in the novels of Nabokov or Joyce, help to slow down the “reading,” which allows multiple stories to unfold through the relatedness of the detritus to other objects and characters in the scenes. This turns simple fairy-tale or dialectic themes into densely woven narratives where the tragic and comic, serious and absurd, can come together, play, then proliferate. As a result, the utopias depicted in Blue Skies and in the title itself become complicated, compromised spaces that can be read again and again.

 

 

Blue Skies From Now On is on view at Jack Fischer Gallery, in San Francisco, through January 22, 2011.

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