Critics’ Picks

Ryan Mosley, Southern Banjo, 2009,
 oil on canvas, 96 1/8 x 120 1/8".

Ryan Mosley, Southern Banjo, 2009,
 oil on canvas, 96 1/8 x 120 1/8".

London

Ryan Mosley

Alison Jacques Gallery
16 - 18 Berners Street
January 13–February 13, 2010

Ryan Mosley likes to borrow freely from art history. In his recent paintings, there are cartoonlike blobs of flesh that recall Guston, Gauguinesque landscapes filled with garish color, and even references to Bellini and Vermeer. But reducing his work to an ironic jumble of appropriations doesn’t do it justice: As his first exhibition with this gallery shows, his paintings are full of subtlety, strangeness, and potential. Many of the larger paintings are tied together with a southern-gothic or Americana thread. In Midnight Cabaret, 2009–2010, for example, a giant white moon frames the blackened face of an extremely flexible cowboy, while in Southern Banjo, 2009, a bearded banjo player plucks away as an Old Testament serpent slides toward him from an overhanging branch. The smaller paintings, by contrast, have the quiet delicacy of old-master portraits: Take In Bloom, 2009, for instance, in which a mustached face floats against a dark background, and A Concave Friar, 2009–2010, wherein a monk’s skull elegantly protrudes and caves in.

Despite all the stylistic leaps and changes in scale, the show offers a surprisingly tight group of paintings. This is largely due to some clever compositional links, such as the shape-shifting serpentine line that runs through several works: sometimes as a snake or a cactus, occasionally as a slithering form punctuated in a paisleylike furl. There are possibly a few too many paintings in the show, but for all his knowing winks to other artists, Mosley is definitely starting to stand on his own two feet.