New York

Quintessa Matranga, Sleeping in My Dreams, 2017, oil on canvas, 18 × 24".

Quintessa Matranga, Sleeping in My Dreams, 2017, oil on canvas, 18 × 24".

Quintessa Matranga

Queer Thoughts

Quintessa Matranga, Sleeping in My Dreams, 2017, oil on canvas, 18 × 24".

The recurrent motif in “Me at 3AM,” Quintessa Matranga’s recent show of seven small, anxious oil paintings, was a thick quilted comforter, which acts as a barrier between a human figure and the ominous, threatening world that she inhabits. Painted on the New York–based artist’s bedroom floor, these small, deliberately impoverished works of teen surreality summon a youthful, sequestered world. In Sleeping in My Dreams (all works 2017), a bed is hoisted into a black night sky; sandwiched between the mattress and a comforter is a young woman, secured in place by a chain. She is elongated and ill-proportioned, while her face and poker-straight hair are brought about through a childish painterly style—the oil paint in these areas is dry, crumbly and gingerly applied, creating the effect of a school painting made with acrylics.

The paintings that most readily invoke a psychic or dream space are those rendered in a spectral style—the fragile characters who inhabit their thin, wavering atmospheres also convey a sense of precarious youth. True Story is another bed scene, this time set in a queasy green environment, in which another female figure lies in the center of a mattress flanked by two pairs of calmly resting cockroaches, their insect legs politely folded in front of their thoraxes. This woman’s too-long arms and giant hands stretch down in front of her with a kind of openness, which calms the alarm in the image, while evoking the curiously accepting nature of dream logic. Sitting on a Strawberry features a boy wearing a cap and earphones, resting on top of a giant berry with a skeletal rib cage, spine, and pelvis and an emoji-like heart; despite the bizarre circumstances in which he finds himself, he simply smiles cutely, unfazed. In Indigestion, however, a prone figure’s stomach has turned into curdling green waves, powerfully implying the sense of losing one’s bodily integrity through nausea.   

Matranga’s works are the fragile children of “bad painting,” but she introduces formal shyness to that mode of self-aware naïveté. The careful, guileless handling of several of the small figures conveys an anxious preciousness rather than a sense of freedom. In this way the work is less a display of a de-skilled anti-aesthetic, and more about conjuring a sense of contingent painterly weakness. Along these lines, the comforter as a symbolic device suggests that these are tender, threatened characters in need of comfort and safety. Who could possibly criticize such easy prey, these poor things, poor millennials? In such a way, the paintings wield vulnerability as a weapon: perhaps one of the only exclusive weapons available to a generation who see themselves inhabiting a stripped world, with limited access to space, capital, infrastructure. It remains to be seen whether such meekness is a passing style for the young, or if Matranga and her generation suggest a way of reflecting on and making use of powerlessness.

Laura McLean-Ferris