New York

Richard Bosman

Brooke Alexander

Richard Bosman’s new paintings are ugly like a Mickey Spillane novel is ugly. They’re mannered, gutsy, and intoxicated with the poetry of vernacular violence. Scenes of escalated mayhem are thickly painted with mean, muddy colors—lots of yucky gray and blue and red. The jagged intensity of the figures, all of which are caught in moments of impending or resolved brutality, is reminiscent of the alienated Expressionism of Edvard Munch. Bosman doesn’t have Munch’s cathartic sense of subject—he’s still thumping away on the bass where Munch fine-tuned the treble; and the work can be a little dippy in its “Oh, my God” hysteria. But when Bosman tempers the melodrama with a little gestural psychology, the results can be very powerful.

Most of the paintings share a narrative device that juxtaposes what is clearly a victim with what may be either a bystander or a perpetrator. Feet entering or fleeing the frame are the least interesting variation on the theme. Some paintings court the viewer by setting up scenes of cinematic familiarity: a noir heroine stands impassively by a window ignoring the bloodied corpse on the shag rug; a man catapults backwards out the window into a starry night, while his companion is caught in a position of menace or assistance. Ultimately, Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock have done these scenes better.

There are, however, three paintings in which Bosman is brilliantly on target, in which his agitated paint handling coincides with compositions that unnerve. The quietest of the three shows a man putting on his coat in a Hopperesque bedroom. The man is standing between the bed and the window. Outside, it’s raining; the neutral meanness of the room and the slashes of rain on the window set a Willy Loman mood. Then, turning it all around—a gun on the bed. This is a pristine evocation of menace.

In Bosman’s largest painting (a diptych, in fact), a wall of golden wheat rises by the side of a dirt road. A man stands by the open door of a sedan. In the foreground, in a puddle of blood, is a corpse. A crack in the sedan’s windscreen hints at a reciprocal violence but does not emphasize it. Here Bosman has beautifully synthesized a genre of Great Plains Gothicism in all its murderous banality.

The most disturbing painting shows a girl (not a woman) rushing into the sea. Standing on the shore is a man clutching a knife. The tension is palpable. The contorted poses of the couple, caught in the steely light that suffuses the painting, produce an incisive delineation of terror. This is the most economical of Bosman’s paintings, and it dominates the show.

Richard Flood