Rising contemporary artist Titus Kaphar is gaining major prominence in the New York City art scene. In addition to an exhibition currently on view at The Studio Museum in Harlem, his work is also being featured at two Chelsea galleries this month. Jack Shainman Gallery is presenting two exhibitions of Kaphar’s work at both of its Chelsea locations.
One of these shows titled Drawing the Blinds, features a collection of paintings in which the canvas is cut, slashed, stripped, layered, and peeled. With these works, Kaphar manipulates these images to create an alternate history. For instance Gift of Shrouded Descent, features an iconic image of George Washington but Kaphar hides the figure so that the viewer focuses on the young man and horse in the background, a part of the narrative that is often overlooked. Similarly, in a painting of Thomas Jefferson titled Behind the Myth of Benevolence, in which a layer of painting is peeled and folded over to reveal a darker, alternate history.
Also intriguing is Collaging Emptiness III which features a symmetric flipped image of a figure from the chest up where the top half is covered in gold leaf, while the lower half is covered in fabric. These cut-out shapes cover the faces of two individuals kneeling over parts of a basket with a baby’s legs visible inside, as an unattached hand hold it. The figures stand out with their color against a gray backdrop of the inside of their home.
One big highlight of the show is a mixed media piece titled Columbus Day Painting which references John Vanderlyn’s iconic painting of Columbus’ landing. In Kaphar’s work, Columbus and his explorers are hidden by a textured material, drawing attention to other elements of the painting, such as the explorer’s flags and weapons, and the native American figures in the background who seem apprehensive of these strangers who are claiming the land.
The other show titled, Asphalt and Chalk, is part of a larger body of work, known as The Jerome Project, which Kaphar began working on in 2011. The idea for the Jerome Project came about when Kaphar came across his father’s mug shot online, he came across the mug shots of the several other young men who had the same first and last name as his father.
The younger Kaphar began working on a series of small portraits of these men based on their mug shots, painting them with oil and gold leaf and dipping them in tar. The amount of tar covering each person’s face varies, representing the proportion of time each individual has spent in prison. With these smaller-scale works on view at the Studio Museum, Kaphar presents two large-scale Jerome paintings in his Jack Shainman exhibition.
Other works in the Asphalt and Chalk exhibition include drawings in which Kaphar layers the mug shots he has collected, resulting in distorted images. Both the Jerome paintings and the mug shot drawings represent a group of African American men who are excessively represented in our nation’s prison population.
Asphalt and Chalk also includes paintings where Kaphar uses a technique he calls “white washing.” These works have swift, white paint covering the subjects where Kaphar uses a form of erasure, obscuring and removing a subject entirely.
One such painting titled Yet Another Fight for Remembrance is an example of the “white washing” and depicts two black males raising their arms. The painting was commissioned by TIME magazine for their Person of the Year issue and responds to the Ferguson protestors.
Drawing the Blinds will be on view at The Jack Shainman Gallery’s 513 W. 20th St. location, and Asphalt and Chalk will be on view at the gallery’s 524 W. 24th St. location through Feb. 21. Both gallery locations are open Tues.—Sat. from 10 a.m.—6 p.m.