New York

Richard Bosman, Night Studio, 1979, acrylic on paper, 30 × 22".

Richard Bosman, Night Studio, 1979, acrylic on paper, 30 × 22".

Richard Bosman

Richard Bosman is renowned for his noirish paintings, which often feel like settings for the artist himself to play out his hard-boiled fantasies full of bloody knives, mutilated bodies, and dimly lit mise-en-scènes. Yet the artist’s crude brushwork and comic-book aesthetics—along with a generous dollop of black humor—frequently lighten the load. But Bosman’s exhibition at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, which featured nine modestly sized acrylic-on-paper paintings made between 1979 and 1980, struck a decidedly different tone and seemed more indebted to the stylings of ’50s science fiction and mystical fantasy than to Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade. This was because the works mark a critical transition in the artist’s career, before the femmes fatales and gumshoes, when Bosman abandoned abstraction and embraced the “expressive figuration” (per the show’s press release) that has defined his art ever since.

In The Guard (all works cited, 1979), a sentinel—dressed in a handsome striped tunic, chain mail, a pointed helmet, and a blue Dalek-style skirt—stands at the end of a tunnel, the opening of which resembles a spiderweb. He faces away from the viewer and holds a spear in his crimson-gloved right hand, while a small campfire burns beside him. Our knightly hero is not battling dragons but observing the cosmos, which is punctuated by blobby little stars and a fat moon. Is he an ancient occultist? A futuristic star traveler? A combination of both? Bosman’s commingling of hoary genres in this work seems naughty, decadent—freeing. One wonders if the artist felt like Philip Guston when he stopped making tasteful, pretty-pretty abstractions and started painting those crusty, homely Klansmen surrounded by dirty lightbulbs and oversize hobo shoes.

Loners figure prominently in Bosman’s art. Here, a few of them are fighting against cruel nature—or allegorically reckoning with their own demons. Survivor depicts a bedraggled man sitting on a makeshift raft beneath a wuthering, moonlit sky. He’s adrift on a tempestuous green ocean flecked with white spray and awkwardly holding a bleeding gull, whose wings are broken. Perhaps the bird is meant to be an ominous symbol, foretelling a ghastly end for this helpless stranger, or maybe it’s just dinner. Another avian creature takes center stage in Night Studio, a nocturnal scene in which an enormous menacing raven attacks a man in an ugly brown sweater (the palette on the floor with bright daubs of color indicates that he, like Bosman, is also a painter). And in Pursued, a suited man flees two giant, ghostly insects that are chasing him through a dark city; the dreamlike snapshot leaves his fate unknown.

“Works on Paper” offered a fascinating preview of Bosman’s later efforts. For example, Survivor presaged a series of prints, made throughout the 1980s, of mainly seafaring tragedies, while Night Studio is the progenitor for a 1986 series of oil paintings wherein artists battle for creative control against all manner of monsters. Since the works in this show were made, the narrative thread of Bosman’s oeuvre has dealt largely with the anomie of modern living: A set of 2017 monoprints featuring an assortment of household appliances going up in flames—a stove, a clothes dryer—is especially panic-inducing. However, one visual aspect that seems to have been set aside is the celestial esoteric imagery of The Guard. Bosman has explored the horrors of this world all too well. Perhaps next time he will take us on another trip to the stars.