Critics’ Picks

William Brickel, Two Figures (Lap), 2020, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1/4".

William Brickel, Two Figures (Lap), 2020, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1/4".

Los Angeles

William Brickel

ltd los angeles
1119 S. La Brea Avenue
February 9–March 14, 2020

The forlorn figures in William Brickel’s paintings brood in claustrophobic contortions. Their inner lives seem to be as convoluted as their poses, as ambivalent as their mien. As their eyes are almost always looking away from both the viewer and the other men in the scene, they seem to long for something outside the frame. If not alone—and often they appear in pairs or groups—the figures playfully and wistfully wrap around and caress one another with enormous, unwieldy hands.

“If the hands are wrong,” Brickel has said, “then the whole painting doesn’t work.” His fixation on hands stems from their ability to “evoke empathy.” Through touch, we understand and are understood. Yet the pictured relations are insistently contradictory, confounding not only to viewers but to the figures themselves as well.

In Two Figures (Lap), 2020, one of four ambitious paintings in oil on canvas, one man sits in the lap of another. The larger figure underneath grasps the smaller man’s waist with one hand and presses into his scalp with the other while resting his head on his companion’s half-closed fist. The lap-sitter reaches for his supporter’s thigh. Their touches are tender, but because they convey such need, a sense of violence emerges, too. Like the other pictures, this scene has a sepulchral tone even as it buzzes with feeling. And it’s all in those enlarged hands: the desire and the disinterestedness, the malevolence and the benevolence, the possessiveness and the dispossession.

The four oils on canvas represent Brickel’s most startling efforts; this is his first time exhibiting work in the medium, and already he demonstrates so much control. (Watercolors, also included here, have been his wheelhouse.) Where he goes from here is in his hands.