Review: Merlin Carpenter, Paint-It-Yourself

Reena Spaulings Fine Art, January 31-March 1, 2020

five of 10 very blank canvases

Let’s first say, the trying task of finding this gallery probably adds to the allure of Reena Spaulings as a space, a downtown second-floor hideaway above a bustling (and I’m going to add delicious) Chinese restaurant. The entrance stairwell, lightless, is accessed by venturing through a gaping door maw above a subway exit. I made friends with a lost Australian filmmaker on her first month of a Visa with an artistic curiosity.

We ascend the stairs together, all the while my friend insisting we must be trespassing as I’m suspecting the feeling of exclusion and threat is most certainly of design and desired by the gallery- an escape room of sorts for gentrific 20-somethings seeking their soul’s calling in “the mystery” of art. At the second floor a statuesque, black-clad gallerina closes the door in my face before we might enter, so I proceed to knock.

Now here is where the arc of this art mystery steadies and declines. We gain access and pass through German speakers drinking seltzer fresh from an-ice filled, over-sized garbage can. We pass through cold, conspicuous stares and anxious glancings of young gathering spectators. I see the elevated gallery, wall to wall with maybe 5 x 5′ blank and pristinely-prepared canvases.


“Paint-It-Yourself” instructs the press release along with maybe 10 introduction-to-philosophy-level paragraphs on the artist’s “oeuvre” sprinkled with thoughts on mirrors, climate change, and politics. It was all pretty self-important.

Low and behold, the Germans and twenty somethings crawl toward the box of oil paints in the center of the space and begin to paint, I can’t shake the notion I’m attending the 11th hour-planned birthday party of an unloved, well-off child. The party has nice dressings, a fancy entryway, a spectacle and activity, but is ridden and heavy from a lack of care or meaning.



I decide to paint rather than continue in the causal “should we or shouldn’t we” on-looker dialogues and social constructions I’m sure Mr. Carpenter claims within which can be found his true intent. It is such an over-explored intent, Merlin, and the shouldn’t is found in you making money from this or making more work of undergrad Foundations critique caliber. I’ve seen your other art, next time, paint it yourself.

Addendum: I will admit, I enjoyed painting for a few minutes-I’m a painter, so I also know you shouldn’t encourage young adults and children in attendance to finger-paint with cadmium red. That’s both a liability issue and a health hazard.

image1 (1)
my frog contribution


Review: Aaron Gilbert, PSYCHIC NOVELLAS

Lyles and King, March 1 – April 7, 2019


There is magical realism when reality in a work slips into reverie. Aaron Gilbert’s Psychic Novellas strobe between unflinching social realism and nightmare.


Like Gothic altarpiece, Neue Sachlichkeit, and George Tooker, careful brush strokes built meticulously, one clipped touch next to or on top of another, riddle the surface with vibrating anxiety, a sometimes obsessive, sometimes hastened application imbuing each painting with schizophrenic, violent energy.


Narrative is the blood of these paintings. It courses within screaming and whispering trauma, abuse, oppression, sex, violence. One story here is not hopeless, the motif of the child present as either ghost, pregnant belly, interior keyboard player, or 3/4th’s regal standing portrait.


The painting I wish was the best is the above image of the artist holding a child, on Gilbert’s head is a crevice moon scar suggesting a healed, gnarly surgery. I wish it was the best because it is so hopeful, but where the artist truly sings is within nightmare, like he has experienced too much of it and become it, like the swirling dead eyes of the people he paints belong only to him.


Review: Cirrus, Katrina Fimmel


Lime, 2017. Watercolor, marker, gouache, acrylic on canvas
Lime, 2017

Within the new Tribeca gallery Lubov, upstairs and unassuming, I found the paintings of Katrina Fimmel. A grouping of large, oddly beautiful and reverie-laden mixed-media transparencies are hung on walls painted like midday clouds. I must admit, at first I felt rebuked and removed from the art. I searched for an entry point, but I think the lack of focal consequence ends up being the point, a kind of confrontation with a void made visible. In contemporary life, where we swim through visual information inconsequentially, almost all of which has a hidden capitalistic agenda, to look through becomes an act of seeing.

Installation View

How is one allowed inside an image when every inch is transparent?  The Francis Picabia retrospective at MoMA is a good historical relative to this work. He too has a series of transparent paintings where, like Fimmel, lines and form confuse layer and focus.  Both artists expose a disturbing cynicism toward modern (in Picabia’s case) and post-modern/late-capitalism (for Fimmel’s) daily life. Value can be found in not trusting an image, in using our imagination to swim past a visual surface.

Dadaism, Picabia’s heart, exposes absurdity through the expression of it. In times of political and social turmoil, when the corrupt disposes us of what we know as truth, a heartfelt expression of nonsense we are expected to accept thrown back at society seems just. 

When pieced back together the broken images of Fimmel are strong longings for childhood. They speak of injury, fleeting time, adolescence, Saturday morning cartoons. They are genuine and cynical simultaneously, innocent and suspicious. I would recommend keeping an eye out for more of her work, it is strong, and dare I say, layered.

Zoom, 2017. Watercolor, marker, gouache, acrylic on canvas
Zoom, 2017
Ponytail, 2017. Watercolor, marker, gouache, acrylic on canvas
Ponytail, 2017