Chicago

Dan Devening

CCA Gallery

In Dan Devening’s paintings, he summons forth bits and pieces of thespian flotsam—yards of drapery never to be drawn back, ornate chandeliers forever darkened, segments of backdrops randomly leaning against one another—and juxtaposes them with images of actors (sometimes drawn from the commedia dell’arte), creating melancholy evocations animated by a palpable sense of loss. Presented on multiple panels frequently stacked atop one another and presented on shelves in seemingly random arrangements, Devening’s images have an eerie and ghostlike quality, a Felliniesque air that undercuts the initial sense of nostalgia or romanticism.

Motley’s the attire worn by Devening’s tragicomic actors; in his presentations, the costumes of Zanni, Pedrolino, and Punch sport the repetitive diamond-shaped design of the fool’s garb. Actually, it is the absence of these characters, their ghosts, that Devening depicts; he cuts his figures out of the canvases, leaving only their abstract contours behind, and then mounts this empty silhouette onto a panel placed a few inches above another one, creating a kind of negative cameo effect. Lacking physiognomy, Devening’s characters are, rather, historical and literary types. In Punch, 1991, the protagonist’s self-conscious laughter is stilled—his riotous energy spent.

The oval supports Devening employs in most of his paintings suggest souvenirs, weathered remnants from another time, and his restrained color scheme—all cool tans, olive greens, and sepia browns—contributes to a dusty, fetid atmosphere suggesting the Italian 18th century. A kind of dank, overripe rococo predominates, with cursive splendors masking passions beneath the ever-shifting surfaces. In The Displaced Comic Actor, 1991, Devening literally punches the figure into the painting’s surface, juxtaposing him with another small canvas. The commedia goes on; acts of will cannot divert these figures from their tawdry destiny. Like echoes, Devening’s images are never quite as distinct as their original models; they are afterimages, bruised replications playing out their inevitable roles.

James Yood