I’m interested in the fragility of the moment. When painting, each brushstroke is an opportunity to consider and preserve that moment. Each mark is a decision, from the moment the brush collides with the canvas, and each one can go in so many different directions.
Gagosian is pleased to present HELP, an exhibition of new paintings by Dan Colen.
Moving between diverse styles and subjects, Colen investigates the conceptual stakes of materiality and mark making. In his earliest paintings, elements of the supernatural intrude into naturalistic renderings of interior spaces, while his more recent canvases explore the technical, physical, and thematic limits of the medium itself. Colen has often worked with unconventional materials such as chewing gum, soil, and trash, relinquishing control of his work’s final appearance to their unpredictable surfaces. Nevertheless, representational imagery has remained a through line across his oeuvre, allowing him to conduct an ever-evolving inquiry into the objecthood and authority of painting as a medium.
In his new canvases, Colen uses the motif of the message in a bottle—bobbing on an open sea or washed up on a distant shore—to stage the practice of painting as an act of faith, and as a tool for communication with the unknown. The note enclosed in the sealed glass container has traditionally functioned as a distress signal or last-ditch message from a desperate or doomed sailor. These works represent the final entries in Colen’s cycle of “Disney paintings,” which derive their imagery from animated films made by the famous studio.
Beginning in 2003 with his Candle paintings, Colen has used Disney’s imagery and aesthetic to suggest the presence of the fantastical and the miraculous. Based on imagery from Pinocchio (1940), these works depict the woodcarver Geppetto’s table. But in a humorous subversion of Disney’s wholesome ethic, the smoke drifting up from a just-extinguished candle spells out a succession of obscenities. The later Miracle series (2010–18) uses imagery from Fantasia (1940), while the Mother paintings (2008–19), draw on Lady and the Tramp (1955).
In HELP, Colen looks to the fantasy drama The Rescuers (1977). Here he renders ocean and horizon in bright primary colors, retaining the hard graphic outlines characteristic of the cartoon form while still infusing the paintings’ ripples and waves with a sense of movement. In places, his expressive brushstrokes evoke the softness and freedom of watercolor as much as the relative fixity of oils. Among Colen’s most atmospheric works to date, these haunting compositions evoke oceanic loneliness, purposefully drawing upon familiar imagery to suggest a confrontation or conversation with the sublime.
Dan Colen: Sky High Farm
In this video, Dan Colen speaks about his inspiration in founding Sky High Farm as a way to address food insecurity and improve access to fresh, nutritious food for underserved communities in New York. Established in 2011, the 40-acre farm raises pasture-based livestock and grows organic fruit and vegetables exclusively for donation.
The Bigger Picture
Sky High Farm × Project EATS
Dan Colen and Linda Goode Bryant are both artists who have founded nonprofits devoted to food justice. Here they speak about art, food, and life, including how they arrived at farming and the urgency of their projects’ missions during the current health crisis.
A Single Moment: Dan Colen and Francesco Bonami
Dan Colen joins Francesco Bonami in a conversation about absence and nostalgia, decadence and decay, progress and failure—and about help, the theme of his most recent body of paintings.
Dan Colen with Hans Ulrich Obrist
Against the backdrop of his survey exhibition Sweet Liberty, Dan Colen speaks about his work with Hans Ulrich Obrist, starting with his earliest interest in art and continuing up to the recent Desert paintings (2015–19).
Dan Colen: Carry On Cowboy
Gagosian Quarterly presents Dan Colen’s Carry On Cowboy. This performance first took place during the exhibition Dan Colen: High Noon at Gagosian, Beverly Hills.
Dan Colen: At Least They Died Together
Gagosian Quarterly presents Dan Colen’s At Least They Died Together. This performance first took place during the exhibition Dan Colen: High Noon at Gagosian, Beverly Hills.
May 20–26, 2020
Moving between diverse styles and subjects, Dan Colen investigates the conceptual stakes of materiality and mark making. Alongside explorations in unconventional mediums including chewing gum, flowers, and metal studs, he continually returns to oil painting and representation, conducting an ever-evolving inquiry into the objecthood and authority of painting as a medium.
Photo: Eric Piasecki
Saturday, March 7, 2020, 3–4pm
Gagosian Shop, New York
Gagosian will host a book signing with Dan Colen to celebrate the publication of High Noon, an exhibition catalogue of his Desert Paintings (2015–19), exhibited at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, in 2018. These large-scale paintings are lush yet schematic interpretations of the arid landscapes from Chuck Jones’s animated shorts featuring Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. The volume also documents two new performances, At Least They Died Together and Carry On Cowboy (both 2018). To attend the free event, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Colen: High Noon (New York: Gagosian, 2020)