Los Angeles

View of “Dan Finsel,” 2013.

View of “Dan Finsel,” 2013.

Dan Finsel

Richard Telles Fine Art

View of “Dan Finsel,” 2013.

Art therapy may be good therapy; it may or may not be good art. “E-thay Inward-yay Ourney-jay,” Los Angeles artist Dan Finsel’s recent solo show at Richard Telles, was a perverse gray mix of both. Extruding himself through exercises in Margaret Frings Keyes’s 1974 The Inward Journey: Art as Therapy for You, a self-help book he found at his parents’ house, the artist produced intestinal mandalas and absurd furniture, photocollages and mannerist self-portraits, all purporting to externalize an interior life. But rather than earnest psychoanalysis, this show was more accurately a backdoor act of seduction, via which the artist charmed the viewer into caring for Finsel—both the artist and the character featured in his work.

At Telles, sitting on the floor was a kind of shoe box with a coffin’s proportions—Self Box #2 (all works 2013, unless otherwise noted)—covered with cutouts of mummies, gems, and a model’s face. Hung on the surrounding walls was “Meeting My Dark Self, Chatsworth, CA,” 2012–13, a series of five misregistered multiple-exposure photos, in which fragments of Finsel’s face and body appear to merge with brown boulders and additional layers of absent selves. But this setup, installed in the second gallery, felt like a sideshow to the main gallery’s spectacle: the paintings and furniture that, assuming an almost Jungian vocabulary, supported Finsel’s coy exploration of both psychic and physical containment. Each of the five “Andala-May Ossibilities-Pay” paintings symbolizes a member of Finsel’s immediate family through weird gray cords twisting into pretzels, hearts, or concentric pathways on a retro-hued field. These forms appeared again as sculpted clay archetypes placed upright on or limply laid across a series of three circular tables with folding leaves: “Amily-Fay Ulpture-Scay.” Finsel’s coming- of-age played out across these pieces—from Prepubescence-Yay, in which rolled cylinders hang like genitals; through Adolescence-Yay, with clay forms nearly submerged in a pool of ink; and on into the “here and now” of Amily-Fay Ulpture-Scay: Here-Yay And- Yay Ow-Nay, an ornately milled white table, flush with the wall, with legs conjuring strings of anal beads and a top whose perimeter had been perforated with heart- or butt- shaped cutouts.

Despite the grace of Finsel’s forms, they are tinged with embarrassment: a guilty infatuation with one’s own body in the presence of the “family.” Nowhere in this show was this elegant insecurity more apparent than in the life-size black-and-white nude portraits of the artist. The handsome, claylike folds of his young body have been hand-tinted orange and magenta, the color applied in a maze-like pattern. Perched or curled on top of a kitchen table, he sucks, fondles, excretes, cradles, and supports his sculptures. In E-Thay Inward-Yay Ourney-Jay: Ecoming- Bay Art-Pay Of-Yay E-Thay Amily-Fay (Ree-Thay), for example, a long clay tube appears to thread Finsel along the whole of his digestive tract.

Nothing is so awkward as a public self-examination. Pretension is a constant threat, but one that Finsel charismatically deflects—as he did here, via the pig latinization of all his titles and the corporeal theatrics of his pet shapes. And when Finsel inundates us with color, form, surface, and slickness, it’s almost parody. An open facsimile of The Inward Journey, with Finsel’s own portrait and the show’s garbled title Photoshopped onto the cover, was fixed facedown on the gallery’s desk; anyone who tried to pick it up became the butt of a lowbrow gag. Indeed, even if Finsel’s soft-core and semipersonal imagings of desire do function as therapy for the artist, to the rest of us they yield mostly a druggy sense of the ineffable. In fact, what we find so attractive may be the extent to which we’re charmed, seduced, and subsumed, despite ourselves, by Finsel’s family romance of one.

Travis Diehl