An open-and-shut case

Published Monday, June 13 2022 at 11:23 pm
An open-and-shut case

Honesty looks good on a painter. Why posture? In Maxime Belykh’s Making a Case, the only thing posturing is shapes. Some slouch. Others stand. A playfulness between edges is apparent. Something happens where colors abut, join, or split apart. Grids, wavelengths, crosshatches. There are many ways to do a line.

Installed to the side of the living room in Apartment 13, this is an intimate show. A reposed, tonic kind of effort that makes no judgments of the viewer. Nor do the paintings themselves ask for a severe eye. Per Joshua Boulos, who runs the gallery, Belykh is a total artist. A Gesamtkunstwerk unto himself. That said, Belykh is still new-ish to painting, and a nascence perfumes these works.

There are all sorts of experiments on display: Two large canvases á la De Stijl. A few Richter-y, ‘squeegee’ type works, one with Tom Brady and a Dunkin gift card buried beneath the paint. Two empty pouches of weed—one sporting Pikachu and the other Sonic, both with a bootleg Backwoods logo—attached to a panel divided into that now ubiquitous palette of yellow and blue.

Belykh’s canvases prioritize composition over layering, so the coloration is mostly opaque. He achieves some unexpected hues as he plots his way through abstractions or cryptic figures. The purples, blues and greens here are especially effective.

The brushwork is never aggressive. You might call it restrained, as even the hard edges here appear relaxed. At times Belykh’s paintings are totally unafraid to indulge the vulnerable. One canvas simply reads “LOVE,” the black letters delicately placed over a grid of white squares.

One piece that references a “fuckboy era,” to paraphrase Boulos, isn’t sentimental outright, but it is fused to memory. Grip tape from one of Belykh’s old skateboards forms the canvas’ right edge. It sparkles next to an old t-shirt and above a mass of color. These paintings are poised as fragments of Belykh’s life and outlook, but don’t mistake them as being cloying or twee. A painter’s still allowed his in-jokes, no? And one of the main bits here is a comic exasperation. In one canvas, “LMAO” floats in a circular void.

It’s almost Joker-esque, this cackling ex nihilo. And it really is maddening, I suppose: our lives can feel so difficult to reshape, but forces outside our control are always formless. Laughter is the drug of first and last resort. Not that I think that’s “the case” being made here. These aren’t pessimistic paintings. They’re amiable enough to offer relief to anyone who seeks it.

So, back to the titular case and its making: is it a case for paintings? What does a painting really need to answer to? I suppose people do invent all sorts of guidelines for what a painting should be or should do. But a painting’s most pressing task is always the person standing in front of it. A painting that activates is unmissable. Or: if you see it, you know it.

Too vague a criterium? Well, then there’s a reply in one Belykh’s pieces. A t-shirt pulled over stretcher bars reads: “Don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Also on view in Apartment 13’s front room: three canvases by rapper Viper, best known for his album, You’ll cowards don’t even smoke crack. All three paintings are Blaxploitative figurations with squirmy brushwork, buxom women, Space Ghost cameos, and Viper’s signature literally writ large. A vast contrast to Belykh’s work, but also, somehow, a brotherly complement.

Insta: @apt13gallery

[30 days of June: No. 13/30]