Ryan Mosley, Evening interval, 2019, oil on canvas, 59 × 47 1⁄4".

Ryan Mosley, Evening interval, 2019, oil on canvas, 59 × 47 1⁄4".

Ryan Mosley

It makes sense that Ryan Mosley shares a gallery with Neo Rauch, since both the British painter and his older German colleague use deliberate narrative lacunae and patched-together compositions to suggest the collapse of former certainties. In Rauch’s case, the world he limned was, at least initially, the post-Communist one. Mosley, over the dozen-odd years since he left London’s Royal College of Art, has fashioned colorful, instinctive-feeling, uneasy carnivalesques full of Picassian harlequin patterning, James Ensor–ish skulls, cacti, animals, and, often, men in stovepipe or bowler hats and with extravagant facial hair. Their time and place is no specific time and place at all, but their systemic disorientation speaks, obviously (maybe even a bit too obviously), to our own bewilderment as we get used to the idea that our world might be coming to an end in slow motion.

In Mosley’s recent show, “A planets revolution” (sic), motifs frequently popped up, modified, from one painting to another, offering dream logic in the absence of any other kind. Perhaps his high-keyed color was meant to serve as a sort of consolation: If we can’t have sense—beyond a sense that things are out of joint—we can still have optic sensuality. Songs for the sea (all works 2019) established the show’s dual thematics of spectatorship and confusion. Three figures in bowlers observe a lachrymose, top-hatted fiddler plying his art in a parti-color rowboat on a bright-blue sea; a fourth man, sporting a colossal Afro, looks away. A similar boat—now piloted by a burly, bearded figure who gazes Hamlet-style at a human skull directly beneath a full moon in an empurpled sky over the vanishing point of a river, which his craft zooms toward—appears in Lonely was the mountain. In A planets revolution, the curving rainbow patterning on the boat’s inside has become the background (painted wall? psychedelic sky?) for an encounter between a distracted blue ringtail cat and a young man with an upswept duck’s-ass haircut holding something on a leash, presumably a dog that has wandered off the painting’s lower-left corner.

The paintings feature a lot of reflexive gesturing toward notions of staging and looking. In Evening interval, we saw the bare, knobbly lower legs of two people standing on some kind of podium while a range of hat-sporting figures are arrayed below it. They are staring off in all directions, barely connecting with one another. One wears a lime-green shirt covered in eyeballs. At the canvas’s upper edge, what appear to be boxing gloves dip into the frame. The same platform recurs in Shadows of juniper, now the setting for a performer who gazes into space, appearing utterly detached from those who watch him. The ubiquity of entertainment or spectacle and the simultaneous social atomization evoked in these canvases felt as close as this work got to specific cultural analysis. Then again, that’s not what you go to Mosley’s work for. His art—like the aggravating dropped apostrophe in this show’s title, or the fact that he positioned one canvas directly opposite a perpendicular false wall so that the viewer had no comfortable place to view it face-on—pins itself to an activated off-ness. The show delivered a succession of things going wrong that you couldn’t do anything about and inveigled you—via the virtues of glowing tonality, wily composition, and painterly éclat—to enjoy the experience.