Spotted W, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 147.32 x 146.05 cm
Emo Figure w/ Groove, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Panel, 147.32 x 143.51 cm
Installation View
Installation View
Entrance (The Reluctant Capitalist), 2016, Acrylic on shaped canvas, 119.38 x 101.6 cm
Totalitarian Bebop, 2015, Acrylic on canvas and shaped canvas, 236.22 x 261.62 cm
Installation View
Stack of 9 paintings, 2017, each one acrylic on shaped canvas: (i) Teal Pointer, 63.5 x 81.28 cm; (ii) Red Middle Finger, 81.28 x 91.44 cm; (iii) Paynes Grey Sign of the Horns, 101.6 x 132.08 cm; (iv) Lavandar Double Middle Finger, 78.74 x 124.46 cm; (v) Lemon Yellow double middle finger, 127 x 198.12 cm; (vi) Brown Hand w Missing Fingers, 190.5 x 177.8 cm; (vii) Big Pink Middle Finger, 147.32 x 231.14 cm; (viii) Orange Pinky, 147.32 x 226.06 cm; (ix) Green Pointer, 198.12 x 172.72 cm
Teal Pointer, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 63.5 x 81.28 cm
Red Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 81.28 x 91.44 cm
Paynes Grey Sign of the Horns, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 101.6 x 132.08 cm
Lavandar Double Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 78.74 x 124.46 cm
Lemon Yellow double middle finger,2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 127 x 198.12 cm
Brown Hand w Missing Fingers, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 190.5 x 177.8 cm
Big Pink Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 147.32 x 231.14 cm
Orange Pinky, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 147.32 x 226.06 cm
Green Pointer, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 198.12 x 172.72 cm
Emo Figure (Love Streams), 2017, Acrylic on shaped canvas, 167.64 x 167.64 cm
Stack of 8 paintings, 2017, each one acrylic on shaped canvas: (i) Golden Middle Finger, 60.96 x 119.38 cm; (ii) Light Blue Middle Finger, 73.66 x 119.38 cm; (iii) Black Goalie, 73.66 x 129.54 cm; (iv) Pink Two Finger, 116.84 x 91.44 cm; (v) Light Green Pointer, 66.04 x 142.24 cm; (vi) Cream Metal Hand in Breeze, 152.4 x 182.88 cm; (vii) Red Light Pointer, 147.32 x 172.72 cm; (viii) Maroon Middle Finger, 137.16 x 213.36 cm
Golden Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 60.96 x 119.38 cm
Light Blue Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 73.66 x 119.38 cm
Black Goalie, 2017, Colored Gesso on Shaped Canvas, 73.66 x 129.54 cm
Pink Two Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 116.84 x 91.44 cm
Light Green Pointer, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 66.04 x 142.24 cm
Cream Metal Hand in Breeze, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 152.4 x 182.88 cm
Red Light Pointer, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 147.32 x 172.72 cm
Maroon Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 137.16 x 213.36 cm
Stack of 7 paintings, 2017, each one acrylic on shaped canvas: (i) Ultramarine Blue Middle Finger, 76.2 x 111.76 cm; (ii) Naphthol Pointer, 76.2 x 127 cm; (iii) Brilliant Green Pointer, 109.22 x 134.62 cm; (iv) Light Green Peace, 88.9 x 152.4 cm; (v) Red Pinky, 127 x 198.12 cm; (vi) Van Dyke Brown Smoker, 111.76 x 180.34 cm; (vii) Turquoise Pointer, 167.64 x 132.08 cm
Ultramarine Blue Middle Finger, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 76.2 x 111.76 cm
Naphthol Pointer, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 76.2 x 127 cm
Brilliant Green Pointer, 2017, Colored Gesso on Shaped Canvas, 109.22 x 134.62 cm
Light Green Peace, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 88.9 x 152.4 cm
Red Pinky, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 127 x 198.12 cm
Van Dyke Brown Smoker, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 111.76 x 180.34 cm
Turquoise Pointer, 2017, Acrylic on Shaped Canvas, 167.64 x 132.08 cm
Installation View
Installation View
Installation View
Installation View

The pictorial alphabet of James English Leary is comprised of recurring forms enacted as monochromes of various sizes and colors. Constructed as shaped canvases, the works loosely trace the outlines of truncated four-fingered hands, which in their profusion constitute a vocabulary of gestures giving each work (along with the color) its title: Red Middle Finger, Grey Sign of the Horns, Green Pointer, Lemon Yellow Double Middle Finger, etc.

The pieces are often placed on the floor leaning against the wall and are sometimes installed upside-down or at 45 degrees as if they were turning in on themselves. The arrangement of these works does not have a predefined meaning; rather they play off of themselves, pointing and gesturing to rearrange the spaces they inhabit. Similarly, various canvases are stacked by size forming random compositions of color. These configurations are not fixed and can be changed depending on the circumstances.

It is an open language, akin to a game of signs offering a multitude of possibilities without true restrictions. Their soft appearance (there are no hard-right angles) invites an experience of semi- figuration which depending on their orientation and relations can invoke a torso, a face, breasts, or a penis and balls. Occasionally other body parts are added to the hand: a pair of lips or a nose that seem to want to escape the frame.

The palette used by Leary begins with the primary – red, yellow, blue – which, once mixed, produce ranges of violet, green and orange. The juxtaposition of colored masses and the volume of painted objects that vibrate and burst are not unrelated to the Pop Art of the design firm MEMPHIS. Leary’s forms seem equally indebted to American comic artists, like Robert Crumb, as to 3D forms conceived in a craftsman style. But it is undoubtedly in Philip Guston that we find the strongest influence. The diptych Totalitarian Bebop (2015), which depicts five hands with smoking cigarettes, is a direct reference to the master’s themes. Further influence can be seen in the use of red and pink found in Cameo (2014) and in the few works of unambiguous figuration Emo Figure (Orange and Brown heads) (2017), Emo Figure (Love Streams) (2017), and Emo Figure w/Groove (2017). The painting Emo Figure (Orange and Brown Heads), which is missing a corner and a part of the head, is not a portrait of a particular person, but a mood piece which thwarts the plan of the rest of the paintings. This figure both observes the rest of the exhibition and is woven into it.

In this puzzle of abstract figures, there is a semantic where the signified – the hand – points to what the artist creates but also to what he wishes to express beyond form:

The hand is an instrument of invention, self-expression, agency and destructive will. The hands point, signal, gesture, reach out. There are little stories you can start to project onto them (especially when they are in groups with each other) – affection, submission, protection, communication, protest. And I like that when they are piled up they become a ‘crowd’ all clamoring for attention.

One can therefore understand the title of the exhibition, Barn Burner, which refers to a radical political group of the 19th century New York Democratic Party.

 

Text by Nicolas Trembley