New York

Tyson Reeder, Chopper, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 52 × 71".

Tyson Reeder, Chopper, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 52 × 71".

Tyson Reeder

Canada

Tyson Reeder, Chopper, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 52 × 71".

Pierre Bonnard once claimed that he would like to “arrive in front of the young painters of the year 2000 on the wings of a butterfly.” Had he done so, there’s a fair chance he would have presented himself to Tyson Reeder. Chopper (all works 2014), on view in Reeder’s recent show at Canada, is a cheerfully nostalgic painting of a motorcycle with a comically elongated front end, seen against a checkered backdrop of graphite and paint in yellow, mustard, and green over a lilac underpainting that summons the lysergic tiling of Bonnard’s Nude in the Bath, 1936–38. The French artist is one of the painters named in the press release as an influence, and though Reeder’s lines do not bend and waver around their subject as Bonnard’s do, his watery paints enjoyably fail to fill their designated grid squares, creating an impression of a tenuous provisionality that is reminiscent of the neo-Impressionist master. In Reeder’s Street Corner, where the sidewalks are flamingo pink and the buildings are emerald green, the wraithlike pedestrians seem ready to slither vertically down the painting, in much the same way that cups and saucers on Bonnard’s checkered tablecloths always threaten to slide off the perspectival plane. In the acid-bright Shoe Store, yellow display units showcase a range of shoes, all outlined in lime green, all wonky and fizzy yet still sheer, painted thinly over the shelves, diluted.

A gentle wateriness, and a slipperiness, persists throughout. A trio of paintings, Sammy’s Beach (yellow), (red), and (blue), features the same softly shaped shore rendered in different palettes. These are pleasures of fulsome tonality and gentle line. A limpid spot pattern appears on each—in (blue) the dots are smattered across the sky, as raindrops or drippy stars; in (yellow) they decorate the sea, recalling sunspots or sparkles. Those spots are distinct, self-aware markers on a scene that has been stretched away from its subject and transformed into a picture. Nearby is the sculpture News Box Fountain, a blue street newspaper vending machine that dismally pumps out a puddle of water, gently rusting. There’s a sense of being caught between the soft beach and the city streets.

At times, the show could feel adrift. In addition to the paintings, Reeder left on view the remnants of an open-mike-style “piano party,” which took place in January, including a rudimentary white desk (Double-sided Piano) and a mike stand on a carpet. The press release, rather than anchoring things, blew us even farther out to sea. The statement celebrates Reeder and his brother Scott as necessary, contemporary jesters, sowing good-humored discord in a courtly art world. The two have staged ludic, semiparodic art fairs, held in the dark or at a bowling alley, and founded “Club Nutz (The World’s Smallest Comedy Club).” However, this was chiefly a modest painting show, featuring still lifes and landscapes—neither raucous nor terribly silly—and the press release offers Tyson Reeder as deadpan comic: “Like any good straight man, it is often difficult to tell where Mr. Reeder sits in regard to what he is presenting in his work.”

It’s a nice read, but all that second-guessing and knowingness is fatiguing, in the end. For the most part, Reeder’s paintings can happily stand under the spotlight and crack their own subtle jokes. The works feature banana skins, terrible shoes, and comedic machines, as well as formal amusements and perplexities involving weight, scale, mass, and material. But, perhaps more radically, the paintings can also be serious. In times of deep cynicism, it can sometimes be worthwhile to take a straight man at his word.

Laura McLean-Ferris