Critics’ Picks

Jim Denomie, Standing Rock 2016, 2018, oil on canvas, 92 x 120".

Jim Denomie, Standing Rock 2016, 2018, oil on canvas, 92 x 120".


Jim Denomie

Bockley Gallery
2123 W 21st Street
February 22–April 6, 2019

Jim Denomie’s latest body of work combines large-scale narrative paintings with surrealist portraits. A vibrant palette provides for lush contrasts: A river glows toxic orange amid green rolling hills; clouds drift in hues of pink and purple with dashes of pale blue. The paintings’ ostensible warmth settles uneasily over their subject matter, which is the Anishinaabe artist’s interpretation of the 2016 protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. Indigenous and settler histories collide in a vast tableau titled Standing Rock 2016, 2018, which pays tribute to the resilient water protectors and lingers with irreverent humor on the demonic greed of the armed antagonists (noose- and cross- wielding Klansmen, double-headed dogs, hyenas, suited businessmen, and two United States presidents caught in compromising positions). These stylized figures share the canvas with a veritable menagerie of spiritual presences. Spectral rabbits cross enemy lines, giant frogs emerge from the river, and the skies gather into creaturely silhouettes. Wounded Knee 2016, 2018, whose title aligns the protests with the 1890 massacre, singles out a row of counter-protestors, only some of them human, who gleefully take aim across barriers of barbed wire. As in Dog Day Afternoon, 2018, the artist unapologetically adopts the point of view of the protesters/protectors.

The most recent pieces home in on individual characters: The red-eyed woman in Standing Rock-Mother and Child (Pre-birth), 2019, acts as a fiery reminder of whose future is at risk, while a hollow-eyed, teeth-baring policeman wears a white hood on top of a combat helmet in Standing Rock-Cop with a Social Disease, 2019. Denomie’s biting social commentary folds recent and remote histories into a vision of deeply animate, living land.