This catalogue has been published on the occasion of the exhibition Patrick Neal, Winter Was Hard: still/lives from lockdown. Many thanks to Elizabeth Hazan, founder of Platform Project Space Alyssa Fanning is an artist, curator and adjunct professor of drawing and design at Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ and Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ. She will have a solo exhibition of drawings at Platform Project Space, Brooklyn, NY this June.
Swan vase (studio wall), 2021, oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches
Patrick Neal is a painter, curator and arts writer. He is a 2018 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Painting and a contributor to Hyperallergic and Two Coats of Paint. Neal’s work was included in the inaugural edition of the new online literary arts journal Exquisite Pandemic, as well as the virtual exhibition Lost in Isolation, curated by Void Collective.
WINTER WAS HARD still/lives from lockdown
Red Onions, 2020, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches
Publication copyright © Patrick Neal / Essay © Alyssa Fanning. All rights reserved. Design: Patrick Neal Platform Project Space, 20 Jay Street, #319, Brooklyn, NY 11201 www.platformprojectspace.com / @ platformprojectspace
Winter Flowers, 2021, watercolor on clayboard, 30 x 30 inches
April 24-May 22, 2021
Left: Gorky with cactus, 2020, watercolor, oil pastel and oil on aquaboard, 20 x 16 inches
Bottom: Boga, 2020, oil on canvas 24 x 20 inches
Patrick Neal has described his still life paintings as “reference points for musings on the creation of artworks themselves.” His most recent exhibition Winter Was Hard: Still/Lives from Lockdown at Platform Project Space, Brooklyn, NY, reveals a generous practice that invites the viewer to share in the artist’s musings. With muscular, tactile surfaces reminiscent of Lucian Freud and Stuart Davis, Neal calls upon the viewer to join in retracing the process of his work’s creation by laying bare the strokes that make up the work. In the artist’s words: “I try to convey how I see, think and navigate around a setup to understand it.” Neal’s sophisticated painterly strokes showcase a treasure trove of disparate forms and textures: shiny glass vases, earthy coil pots, onion peels and cactus spines, all lit with the eye of a set designer and placed in shallow spaces. We can imagine that the paintings, which were made during or just prior to the onset of the pandemic, helped the artist make sense of a world outside the studio that had gone off kilter. The subjects he chooses to paint are specific to this moment in history and serve as vehicles to discuss larger issues surrounding the pandemic. Neal presents us with unrelated everyday objects painted in saturated hues: potted houseplants, onions, cacti, a worn rug and vases filled with faux flowers that the artist has spray-painted using bright colors (a Neal staple). Idiosyncratic subjects for still life paintings, but their juxtaposition and context provide a more nuanced read. In Boga, 2020 Neal paints apples and pears alongside lilies, hibiscus and a rose set against a backdrop of charcoal gray transitioning into iridescent green. Swan Vase (Studio Wall), 2021 presents hot pink and lemon yellow blooms arranged in an ornate deep green vase shaped in the form of a swan. A light dappled studio wall provides a quieter backdrop for the festive buds to steal the spotlight. Jaguar Palace (Blood and Water), 2020 features a coil vase of blue roses atop the ledge of a wall ornamented with Mexican relief carving. Behind the wall Neal has painted a stone backdrop in rich grays. A blue (water) and red (blood) drip of paint pour down into the setting from the upper corners of the composition, a detail which is both beautiful and ominous. In Winter Flowers, 2021, a watercolor and the most recent painting in the exhibition, Neal paints luscious blue and violet flowers in a luminous pale green crystal vase. The scene is illuminated by dancing turquoise string lights. Behind the vase of flowers the diamond-patterned stitching on a pink tapestry transitions from red to baby blue to ochre. The painting, completed this March, feels the most optimistic of the group – it is light, airy and alive with movement. Neal’s interest in painting flowers is noteworthy. He has commented that within his practice, the still life acts as a vehicle for exploration that allows him to create a dialogue with art history. He has cited as an inspiration the 19th century painter of flowers Henri Fantin-Latour, whose interest in the phantasmagoria of symbolism coincide with Neal’s interest in biophilia, phenomenology and non-duality. One also thinks of flower paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Rachel Ruysch, Van Gogh and Janet Fish, when considering Neal’s place in this lineage. It should be noted that the floral bouquets are all “fake” flowers. We do see living blossoms on a brilliant Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana) and a small cactus, but the roses, lilies and hibiscus, the flowers we associate with traditional still life painting, are all synthetic. For a group of paintings created during a global pandemic this feels particularly appropriate. Observing Neal’s flowers, one may assume they were rendered from living plants, but they weren’t, and in the transition from observed object to painted subject an essence of the original is retained. If this fact isn’t at first discernable to the unknowing eye, once the flower’s mock nature is revealed, our reading of the subject changes. Doesn’t it feel appropriate then, that during a global pan-
demic, most likely zoological in origin, Neal should choose to paint mass produced, man-made flowers? The relationship between humans, non-humans, and the natural world feels more precarious than ever. What about the painted subjects in the exhibition that aren’t synthetic, but are ‘natural’ and in some cases living? Let’s look at the onion. During the early months of covid it was virtually impossible to find onions at local grocers – they were in demand everywhere. It seems that, like Neal, we all turned to these trusted sources of flavor and sustenance in a world of uncertainty. Onions, 2020, made in late winter before quarantine and Red Onions, 2020, made during the spring of 2020, are included in the exhibition, while a third painting titled White Onions, made during the summer of 2020, sold prior to the formulation of this exhibition. In Red Onions, four crimson bulbs sit atop a flat-white ground plane, with a semi-deconstructed magenta net bag hanging behind the root vegetables like wallpaper and cascading down to cover the ground plane. A smaller blue-violet net bag sits underneath the leftmost onion. The rightmost onion sprouts a bright green growth. Neal brings the objects to the front of the picture plane allowing the viewer to feel as though they are standing in the space. It’s a shallow space; there isn’t much room to move around. In Red Onions, as in the other paintings in the exhibition, Neal manipulates the figure ground relationship (and the surface texture of his oil painting) to subtly abstract the composition, bringing to mind Cezanne’s animated still life paintings. The hanging mesh seen here stops the viewer’s eye from receding back into space and also creates a background grid – one that begins to unravel as it moves from the top of the composition to the tabletop on which the onions sit. There is only so much structure and rigidity the Covid landscape will allow. Neal describes finding the onion bag early on in the pandemic while on a walk through the more desolate area of industrial Long Island City, Queens, an area “populated with a lot of businesses, food trucks, kiosks, and feral cats. This area of town was sparsely populated and away from the more attractive Gantry Park where many people congregated.” We sense Neal’s preference for finding useful “gems” in the least expected places. Flaming Katy, 2020 depicts a vibrant Madagascar Kalanchoe, a succulent that blooms during winter. Like a winter baby, which incidentally Neal is, the Katy surprises us with its ability to flower or be birthed while most other vegetation and animals await the milder temperatures of spring. In Neal’s piece the plant appears in full orange blossom. The Katy is reassuring and full of vitality, both substantial and fragile; we can imagine that the subject acted as a welcome beacon of hope during the darkest days when Neal painted it. Another of the “tougher” flowering plants seen in Neal’s plant paintings, the subject of Gorky with Cactus, 2020 is a live, blossoming cactus placed in front of a reproduction of an Arshile Gorky painting. The cactus, of all flowering plants, is notable for its drought tolerance. The appearance of the cactus is, of course, a result of evolutionary adaptation: the plant can store water in a way that roses, lilies, hibiscus, and the Flaming Katy never could. In Neal’s hands we see the cactus’ structural evolution presented in all of its glory. Neal pairs the cactus with the amorphous forms present in the Gorky reproduction. “Gorky’s serpentine and sharp forms reminded me of a cactus I had seen recently in the supermarket with little orange flowering buds.” The little cactus and the Flaming Katy thrive despite difficulty; they seem to have called out to Neal when he decided to paint them as if to say: you, too, will prevail over this period of uncertainty and lack. Neal proves in Winter is Hard that, like the Kalanchoe and the cactus, sometimes difficult circumstances produce the most gorgeous shows of creative growth. – Alyssa Fanning, April 3, 2021