Joshua Liner Gallery is pleased to present Abominations, an exhibition of new paintings by the Brooklyn-based artist Ryan McLennan. This is the artist’s second solo show with the gallery. McLennan’s acrylic and graphite on paper works depict the animal kingdom exclusively. But don’t be surprised if the subjects’ “bad behavior” has an uncanny familiarity. Though the birds, snakes, rodents, and elk carry the authenticity of a dedicated naturalist and master draftsman, their actions are pure allegory for human motives and behavior, some of it of the worse sort. Without resorting to anthropomorphizing these four-legged, winged, or slithering creatures, McLennan transposes human motives onto carefully researched animal behavior, and in the process he reveals just how common those links may be.
Abominations takes up universal questions, such as speculating on the existence of God and what it means to be moral. In the large work The Immortal, an elk with an impressive rack is pinned by a tree branch into a peculiar, torture-like pose against a white background. On and about him are smaller creatures—hummingbirds and rats —that appear to relish in the great beast’s suffering. Or perhaps they’re merely rubbernecking, taking in the tragic fall of the mighty with relief but also a little schadenfreude.
In Tongue of Wisdom, a coiled rattlesnake cradles a mourning dove as a gaggle of magpies looks on, perched on a discarded set of antlers. Deeply ambiguous, it isn’t clear whether the snake means the dove harm, or which one the magpies are aiding. In Heathen, two birds of differing species appear to argue over what belongs in a reliquary of bird “culture,” shown to include a bird skeleton, unhatched eggs, frogs and fishes, and a harmless scarlet snake.
In other works on black paper, the subjects are more intimate and operate more like traditional still-life compositions rather than theatrical mise en scène. The background’s contrasting black void brings everything forward for greater scrutiny, where the meticulous details of McLennan’s art can be quietly enjoyed. As McLennan notes, “Once I learn the geographic distribution of specific animals, their social behavior, and development, I further their existence in a place that only I can document.” This “place” of McLennan’s creation is outfitted with absurd armatures—artfully arranged branches, horns, bones, and rocks—that serve as a stage or apparatus for an equally absurd interaction of nature. Against all rules, competitive species engage in quasi- natural acts that involve complex relays of communication, thus mimicking human behaviors and reflecting back human culture from a skewed but revealing vantage point.
Chloe Early and Ryan McLennan Opening Photos (October 22, 2011)