New York

Jane Corrigan, The Noise Upstairs (Creep), 2015, oil on canvas, 36 × 31".

Jane Corrigan, The Noise Upstairs (Creep), 2015, oil on canvas, 36 × 31".

Jane Corrigan

Feuer/Messler

Jane Corrigan, The Noise Upstairs (Creep), 2015, oil on canvas, 36 × 31".

Jane Corrigan’s latest works in oil had some of the louche narrative implications prevalent within recent figurative painting, but retained the delicacy that marked the artist’s previous work. A cast of ten coltish figures, their proportions and mien familiar to those who saw Corrigan’s 2014 solo exhibition at Kerry Schuss in New York, were presented in similarly central compositions. The figures’ long limbs extend across the canvases in gently off-kilter verticals that activate domestic and pastoral settings composed of ocher and cream, Naples yellow, and Prussian blue. Corrigan’s Toulouse-Lautrecian fin-de-siècle palette, and her sparely illustrative brushwork that evokes early-1960s paperback-novel covers and children’s-book illustrations effect a certain nostalgic, fey aesthetic currently popular in painting, one often accompanied by an undertone of buzzing anxiety and alienation—take, for example, the recent, variously desexed, predatory, and abject figurative work of Sanya Kantarovsky, Ella Kruglyanskaya, and Tala Madani. Yet Corrigan’s subjects appear relatively unfazed by the ominous iconography surrounding them (a bull’s skull mounted to a post, unknown creatures lurking in murky darkness, a mysterious letter). The long-haired figure of Dusk Pee, 2015, underpants dropped, faces the setting sun while the gloaming behind her darkens. Even the most vulnerable of the ten, the skivvied preteen of Morning (I’m scared Mom), 2015, who stares fixedly into space while her standing mother braids her hair, at least has an ally in whom to confide.

If, in her 2014 show at Kerry Schuss, Corrigan’s adolescent subjects were lost in inner monologues, at Feuer/Mesler she emphasized their agency: Most of the works presented profoundly sympathetic portrayals of young women choosing their own adventures. The two girls depicted in Spies, 2016, for example, huddle conspiratorially in the moonlight, crouching behind a gray tree that shields them from a cabin in the background. Someone is home. He—and it’s almost certainly a he—has lit a fire, and a trickle of smoke makes an inky streak in the brisk air. They are heroines of the 1930s Nancy Drew stripe, prepared to piece together and foil the scoundrel’s nefarious plot. Meanwhile, the ingénue of The Noise Upstairs (Creep), 2015, beams a flashlight (another Nancy Drew trope) up darkened stairs while a crouching goblin observes her—and potentially the viewer—from behind a door.

Also included were two non-girlish subjects, one an ambiguously gendered figure attempting to kindle a fire within a woodstove, the other unequivocally an older man with a flowing white beard, walking his black dog and leaning into the wind. But while the new works have a romantic sensibility, they also encompass all of the Sturm und Drang that marks our human experience, whether one is facing the school day or exposing one’s buttocks to the crisp night air, terrors large and small mitigated only by our individual readiness to meet them head-on.

Cat Kron