Michael Fajans

Greg Kucera Gallery

Superficially the subject matter of Michael Fajans’ systematically blasé photorealist paintings is the everyday commerce between people. There is no heroic isolation of figures, no self-conscious myth making, no exploration of the psyche. In Fitting, 1988, two men with their eyes cast downward are trying on coats in a store, aided by attendants. In Ukiyo-e, 1989, a ballroom-dancing elderly Oriental couple dip and laugh with tipsy familiarity. These snapshotlike images are calculated to have a random and pedestrian look. Any attempt by the viewer to infuse a little fantasy into these irritatingly matter-of-fact images is perfunctorily aborted. Less Grail-seeking souls than simply undistinguished people who have temporarily lost their way, the two middle-aged women in Bolivia, 1988, lean over a pastel map laid out on the hood of a car. Done with stencils and acrylic spray paint, only the surface effects—the detailed striation in their hair, or the green and bits of strong red in the flesh tones—give them the kind of sinewy presence which induces the viewer to take notice.

To keep engagement with these paintings on a “conscious” as opposed to subliminal level, Fajans often needles the viewer with perceptual games or formal anomalies, fore-grounding the artificiality of his own expert illusionism. Three people stand against a tiled wall in The Heisenberg Principle, 1990, conversing, writing, and talking on the telephone. Scrutinized more closely, the entire painting is broken down into small, separately painted slightly trapezoidal sections, following the tile pattern. Rough and smooth sections of skin are juxtaposed, but the mind is not able to process the distinction from a distance. The woman in It’s You, 1988, holds a black dress on a hanger in front of herself. Her face seems disembodied, and the stretch of slick, nearly opaque fabric reads as a large black void down the center of the painting.

A real appetite snarls within Fajans’ exactingly contoured but surreptitiously hearty paintwork: as with Courbet, he aggressively empathizes with the unmitigated materiality of his subject. Smoking a cigarette, the woman in Perched, 1989, sits on her haunches high up on a concrete ledge. Her hair, striated gray-brown, sweeps upward like an eagle’s crest. Yellow wrinkles scissor her face, and optically rasp against the cool green lines of the wall and the stripes of her jacket. Florid, strenuously contrasting colors roil beneath a controlled glossy finish. The woman’s unapproachability is matched only by the cunning irascibility of the paint surface. It gleams like an eye staring mulishy back at you.

Jae Carlsson